Resident will receive an honorary degree for advocacy work

A Trumbull resident will receive an honorary degree later this month at the 42nd annual commencement exercises of the UMass Medical School in Worcester for her advocacy work.

Monica Coenraads’ involvement with Rett Syndrome began the day her then two year-old daughter was diagnosed with the rare genetic neurological disorder.

One year later, in 1999, she co-founded the Rett Syndrome Research Foundation (RSRF), leading the drive to stimulate scientific interest and research in Rett Syndrome, culminating with what UMASS Medical School called groundbreaking work in 2007 that demonstrated the first global reversal of symptoms in preclinical models of the disorder.

In 2008, Coenraads launched the Rett Syndrome Research Trust (RSRT), where she continues to serve as executive director. Under Coenraads’ leadership at the RSRF and the RSRT, $41 million has been raised for research, some of which is supporting the work of Michael R. Green, MD, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the Lambi and Sarah Adams Chair in Genetic Research and chair and professor of molecular, cell and cancer biology, aimed at reversing the underlying cause of the disorder.

Coenraads will be receiving an honorary degree May 31, as will Institute of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau, MD. UMASS faculty who helped stem the Ebola outbreak in Liberia will also be honored.

“We are exceptionally proud to recognize the achievements of these distinguished individuals and colleagues at this year’s commencement,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins. “Their accomplishments are, without a doubt, making an impact here in Massachusetts and around the globe, and inspire us to serve compassionately and do better in our own lives.”

Rett Syndrome is a debilitating neurological disorder that strikes mainly females. Girls with Rett appear to develop normally until 6 to 18 months of age.

In a 2004 story in the Hamden Journal, a defunct sister paper of The Times, Coenraads expressed her hope in the difference research could make.

“Treatments and a cure are within our grasp if we continue to fund the highest quality research,” she said in 2004.
She also spoke of her daughter, who at age 7 had not yet taken her first steps.

“The future for girls with Rett Syndrome is quite bleak,” she said then. “But hope stems from the research the foundation is funding. I’m confident that it will lead to treatments and a cure for Rett.”

Coenraads lives in town with her husband and their three children.