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NAF Honors Community Members for Their Achievements

Each year on the final night of the Annual Ataxia Conference we honor members of the Ataxia community for truly standing out in the field of Ataxia research or awareness. We want to congratulate this year’s awardees and thank them for their dedication and achievements to the Ataxia community! 

Check out the award ceremony video and read more about each recipient:

Congratulations! Thank you for supporting the Ataxia community!

Outstanding Achievement Award

Leah and Mark Minkin

Leah and Mark Minkin, from Hartford, WI, have been a big part of the Ataxia community through their fundraising, awareness efforts, and kindness, and compassion. Leah was diagnosed with an unknown form of Ataxia in 2017. Shortly after, Mark decided he wanted to make a difference. Since then, Mark and Leah have raised tens of thousands of dollars through several fundraisers.

Image of a man in a blue collar shirt holding an award and a woman standing next to him in a black sweater speaking into a microphone

In 2022, Mark and Leah graciously decided to co-chair the first year of the brand-new annual fund called Accelerate!. Through their work, they have helped NAF raise nearly $300,000!

Thank you, Leah and Mark, for all you have done and will continue to do for the community.

Rising Star in Research Award

Dr. Hayley McLoughlin
Dr. Celeste Suart

Dr. Hayley McLoughlin and Dr. Celeste Suart are outstanding rising stars in Ataxia research and have significantly contributed to our understanding of Ataxia. Dr. McLoughlin is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan Neurology Department, with a joint appointment in the Department of Human Genetics, where her lab focuses on understanding and developing therapies for SCA3. Dr. Suart was granted her Ph.D. in March 2023 from McMaster University, where her thesis work focused on understanding disease processes underlying SCA1. 

Image of two smiling women holding their awards

This award is being given to Drs. Suart and McLoughlin because they have both gone above and beyond the calling of “just” a scientist. In 2018, these outstanding women founded SCAsource, the first online resource for research on SCAs and related Ataxias written explicitly for those affected by Ataxia and their families and caregivers. In 2022, NAF partnered with SCAsource and its writers to host their content and publish their articles. You can learn more about and explore the articles on the SCAsource landing page.

John W. Schut Research Achievement Award

Dr. Beverly Davidson

Each year, the John W. Schut Research Achievement Award goes to a clinician or scientist whose contributions have forever altered the field of Ataxia research. Over the course of her celebrated career, Dr. Beverly L. Davidson has repeatedly pushed our understanding of neurogenetic disorders and defined entirely new approaches to treating diseases like Ataxia. 

Image of woman in a grey blazer handing off an award to a woman in a black sweater

Dr. Davidson has spearheaded the development of gene therapy, and in particular, a technique called RNA interference, one of the most exciting potential technological advancements in Ataxia drug development. Many Ataxias are caused by DNA mutations in our genes that result in either too much of a toxic protein or not enough of a necessary protein being produced. Dr. Davidson has spent over 20 years fine-tuning novel gene therapy and gene silencing technologies that can replace or reduce the production of disease-associated proteins in the brain and body. Her contributions have brought us to the cusp of clinical trials to assess the potential promise of gene therapy for treating genetic Ataxias. 

In addition to her academic accomplishments, Dr. Davidson has been a productive entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of Spark Therapeutics and Talee Bio. She also serves on the Scientific Advisory Boards of Sarepta Therapeutics, Homology Medicines, Prevail Therapeutics, and Intellia Therapeutics.

Dr. Davidson was recently elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. She was also the most recent past president of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy, the largest international association of gene and cell therapy research.  

Arnie Gruetzmacher Lifetime Achievement Award

Lenore Healey Schultz

Lenore has been involved with the National Ataxia Foundation for 25 years. After the progression of Ataxia caused Lenore to lose her job, she wanted to contribute to the mission of NAF. She worked part-time for our organization from 1998 to 2001.

Image of a smiling woman sitting in a wheelchair and speaking into a microphone

In 2006, Lenore started the Twins Cities Ataxia Support Group and has been the Support Group Leader for this group ever since. Lenore was inspired to start the group by a local community member she met who loved the Annual Ataxia Conference and wanted to be a part of a local Ataxia community in the Twin Cities, MN area. The Twin Cities Ataxia Support Group remains an invaluable resource to the Ataxia community in Minnesota because of Lenore’s leadership and commitment.

Lenore has remained involved with supporting her local Ataxia community despite the hardships of living with the progression of Ataxia and being a single mom to her daughter with no full-time employment or family living nearby. Lenore has drawn some of her strength and perseverance that has allowed her to keep going forward despite the challenges and losses from her faith and mom, who raised seven kids while being the sole caregiver to her dad.

Your impact on Ataxia research and awareness will be felt for years to come!

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