September / 2018

Xinyu Zhao Receives 2018 National Fragile X Foundation Research Award

Xinyu Zhao, PhD, a grantee in The John Merck Fund’s Developmental Disabilities Program (along with her colleague Anita Bhattacharyya), received the 2018 National Fragile X Foundation (NFXF) Research Award for outstanding contributions to the understanding of Fragile X syndrome. Zhao is a professor of neuroscience and Waisman Center investigator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The award was presented at the 2018 national conference held in Cincinnati, Ohio, in July. Zhao also presented, “Bridging the Gap: How Human Stem Cells May Help Us to Find Treatments for Fragile X Syndrome” as a featured speaker at the conference.

Fragile X syndrome is the leading inherited cause of intellectual disability, as well as the source of many cases of learning disabilities and autism. Fragile X is caused by a repetitive genetic error on the long arm of the X chromosome. The mutation is in a single gene called FMR1. A small set of nucleotides (the building blocks of DNA) are repeated excessively, disrupting the structure of the gene and preventing the production of its normally encoded protein (FMRP). The mutation is passed through families and can occur more frequently or severely in future generations.

Zhao’s research focuses on the function of FMRP in neuronal development—the process important for learning, memory, cognition, and adaptation. She is also exploring reactivation of the silenced FMRI gene as a potential treatment option.

“I am honored to receive this award and be included among the previous recipients who have made such significant contributions to Fragile X research” says Zhao. “We share a commitment to expand and advance this research with the goal of improving the lives of individuals and families impacted by Fragile X syndrome.”

September / 2017

Sparkplug Award, 2017 Recipient

Ruth G. Hennig stepped down after 29 years as Executive Director of The John Merck Fund in September 2017. She has worked in the environmental field for over 30 years, first at the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston and then at The John Merck Fund, where she oversaw program-related special initiatives, including Healthy Babies Bright Futures.

Ruth currently serves as a board member of League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, which promotes civic engagement and education on environmental issues, and was a founding board member of Issue One, which seeks to end the corrosive impact of special interest money on politics and policymaking. She has also served as chair at SmartPower and the New England Grassroots Environment Fund, two organizations that she helped create.

In service to the philanthropic community, Ruth was Beldon Fund Trustee, served in management roles at Environmental Grantmakers Association, the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity, and the Health and Environmental Funders Network, and continues her service to JMF as a Trustee. She currently also serves as a board member for Baraka Community Wellness, a nonprofit organization which is changing lives in Boston’s low-income communities with evidence-based fitness and nutrition programs.

Ruth lives in Boston, where she spends as much time outside with her Labradoodle as possible. Photography, movies, travel and politics are her special interests.