Professor Jennifer Zuk Receives Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award

Jennifer Zuk, an assistant professor in Sargent’s Department of Speech, Language & Hearing Sciences, has been selected to receive a 2021 Hartwell Foundation Individual Biomedical Research Award, which recognizes exceptional scientists pursuing “early-stage, innovative, and cutting-edge biomedical research,” to advance the health of children.

One of only 10 awardees nationwide this year, Zuk was selected for her proposal “Neurobiological Basis of Speech Patterns as a Biomarker for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Early Childhood.” This award will provide research support for three years at $100,000 per year.

Director of the Communication and Neurodevelopment Lab, Zuk studies factors in early childhood that shape the trajectory of speech, language, and reading acquisition. Her research uses both behavioral and neuroimaging tools to study associations between the brain and speech, language, and reading abilities, as well as environmental experience such as music. As a researcher and speech-language pathologist, Zuk translates research to practice by promoting effective identification, access, and inclusion for those who experience communication difficulties. Her interdisciplinary approach combines her experience in clinical speech-language pathology, developmental cognitive neuroscience, music cognition, and education to facilitate positive outcomes for children susceptible to neurodevelopmental disabilities.

In selecting awardees, the Hartwell Foundation takes into account the compelling and transformative nature of the proposed innovation, the extent to which a strategic or translational approach might accelerate the clinical application of research results to benefit children of the United States, the extent of collaboration in the proposed research, the institutional commitment to provide encouragement and technical support to the investigator, and the extent to which funding the investigator will make a difference.

Along with Zuk’s individual award, Boston University will also be awarded one Hartwell Fellowship for a qualified postdoctoral researcher in the early stage of their career. The Fellowship provides support for two years at $50,000 per year to enable specialized training in biomedical research.

Zuk received a PhD in speech and hearing bioscience and technology and an EdM in mind, brain, and education from Harvard University. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School and was a clinical fellow in speech-language pathology at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Previously, she was honored by the American American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, with the 2021 Early Career Contributions in Research Award.