Morley Medal: Dr. Jean Frazier '77
Posted 07/11/2013 01:00PM

Dr. Jean Frazier '77 receives the Morley Science Medal from Dr. Robert McCuskey '56, a member of the selection committee.

Growing up with a sibling who struggled with a developmental disability provided Dr. Jean Frazier ’77 with an inside look at the stress that families go through to find the right level of care and support for their loved ones.

Frazier draws on those memories in her current position as a psychiatry and pediatrics professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where she is also co-director of the Child and Adolescent Neurodevelopment Initiative. In that role Frazier oversees a broad research program that works to advance the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, early onset schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Because of her dedication to improving the lives of children and their families, Frazier is the recipient of the 2013 Edward W. Morley Science Medal, presented during the Celebration of Excellence program during Reunion Weekend. The award honors someone who has made a significant contribution to a field of basic or applied science, or to the application of science, technology or engineering for the improvement of the human condition.

“I am accepting this award on behalf of all children with neurodevelopmental disorders and their families,” Frazier said. “It was really very special and quite an honor. This award is very meaningful to me as it shows that WRA understands the importance of doing research that helps improve the lives of our children as an investment in our future.”

Frazier’s work focuses on autism, early onset schizophrenia and bipolar disorder because there is often an overlap in the symptoms associated with those disorders and in their treatments. By studying all three groups, her research team hopes to discover biomarkers that might be specific to each diagnosis. The overall goal of the research is to find improved care for children and families affected by these disorders.

“Children with neurodevelopment disorders and their families struggle often for many years with getting the proper diagnosis and the proper treatment and supports in place,” Frazier said. “There is a lot of family stress and we can work to find better ways to alleviate the suffering of the children. Once the children feel better, they are better able to more fully engage in education and after-school programs and, as a result, can advance along a more typical developmental trajectory. This also allows a family to have more time for their daily routines.”

A member of the second female class to enter WRA after the return of co-education, Frazier has fond memories of her time as a student along Brick Row.

“It was a real interesting time and I enjoyed my days at WRA immensely,” she said. “My older brother, Hal ’75, was there at the same time so we overlapped by a couple of years and I could always get advice from him. (Frazier’s brother, Bob ’81, also graduated from WRA.) I was appreciative of getting a fine education from excellent teachers. I was very involved in music at WRA and enjoyed participating in sports. The science teachers had a lot to do with me taking an interest in science. Marie Fiedler was a real role model for me.”

The school also put in place a foundation that helped Frazier shape her future.

“WRA provided me with a strong educational foundation and taught me the skills that are needed for academic rigor,” she said. “I also acquired some life skills while I was there; I learned to take care of myself and that helped me learn how to take care of others.”

The holder of the Robert M. and Shirley S. Siff Endowed Chair in Autism at UMass since 2008, Frazier is also vice chair and director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the school. She was named one of the nation’s top doctors by U.S. News & World Report in 2012 and was named to the Best Doctors in America list from 2010 to 2012.

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