WSU prof earns international award for research on stuttering

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published October 2, 2013

 Tanya Gallagher, Ph.D., left, president of the International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics, presents Shelly Jo Kraft with the Manuel Garcia Prize for her research linking genetics and stuttering.

Tanya Gallagher, Ph.D., left, president of the International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics, presents Shelly Jo Kraft with the Manuel Garcia Prize for her research linking genetics and stuttering.

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — Shelly Jo Kraft, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Wayne State University and a West Bloomfield resident, was awarded the prestigious Manuel Garcia Prize for her research on the link between genetics and stuttering.

Kraft received her doctorate in speech language pathology, studying the genetics of stuttering and developmental stuttering, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2009. She completed her post-doctorate studies in human genetics in 2011 at the University of Chicago.

While checking her email recently, Kraft received notification that her article, “Genetic Bases of Stuttering: The State of the Art, 2011,” had been selected as the most scientific contribution in the speech pathology field from 2010-13 by the International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics.

“Being a new investigator, I was pleasantly surprised, I suppose I could say, that I received the award notification,” she said.

Kraft traveled to Torino, Italy, to accept the award during the opening ceremony of the 29th International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics World Congress. The Manuel Garcia Prize is named after a 19th century singer, music educator, vocal pedagogue and inventor of the laryngoscope, according to a press release recognizing Kraft.

The prize is bestowed every three years for the top contributing article presented in the Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica, IALP’s official journal.

While speech language pathology is a vast field with multiple specializations, Kraft was honored for her work in the entire field of speech pathology on an international scope, she said.

“Genetic Bases of Stuttering: The State of the Art, 2011” gives a historical review of the literature completed on the genetics of stuttering.

“It basically goes back to the very beginning of when people began to recognize stuttering as a heritable disorder in families,” Kraft explained.

After analyzing articles published in various medical journals, Kraft translated the research and the meaning with a co-author in 2011, laying it out into a readable, understandable and teachable way of presenting stuttering, she explained.

Kraft also included some of her own research, which aims at discovering the genes contributing to the disorder of stuttering in families and unrelated individuals.

Currently, Kraft’s research includes collecting DNA samples from families that have high incidents of stuttering in Australia, Ireland, the U.S. and Canada, as well as conducting gene studies for autism and speech-sound disorders.

“Her research is really making waves,” said Jean Andruski, chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Wayne State University. “She has had invitations in Australia, India, Iceland and Ireland to collect genetic samples and analyze them in relation to stuttering. Her work is very exciting, and she’s been a great addition to our faculty.”

Beyond her genetic research, Kraft is also investigating cognitive factors that contribute to stuttering severity in children and adults.

Kraft has been teaching at Wayne State University for three years. She teaches auditory genetics, which is a class she developed, and doctoral-level audiology.

“Genetics is an area that we did not have a faculty member to cover before Kraft arrived, and it’s become a more and more important field to cover,” Andruski said. “Auditory genetics is something students have been very excited about, having the opportunity to take a course like that.”

Kraft’s name and research was added to a list of winners going back to 1968.

“It’s an honor to be included in a list with so many outstanding scientists from around the world,” Kraft stated in the press release.

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