CDC Acute Flaccid Myelitis Task Force Biographies

Leslie Benson, MD

Dr. Benson is an attending in the Department of Neurology and the assistant director of the Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders Program and Pediatric Neuro-Immunology Program at Boston Children’s and an instructor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. She is directly involved with AFM patient care, development of local AFM diagnostic and treatment guidelines, as well as AFM clinical research project collaborations.

Emily Erbelding, MD, MPH

Dr. Erbelding is the Director of the Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (DMID) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She is responsible for the strategic and scientific vision for DMID’s complex national and international research program. DMID supports basic, preclinical, and clinical investigations into the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of a broad range of pathogens, including those related to biodefense and emerging infectious diseases. The DMID research portfolio also includes basic, translational, and clinical research in rare viral infections and research in pathogen discovery.

Prior to joining DMID in 2017, Dr. Erbelding served as Deputy Director of the Division of AIDS at NIAID, spent 14 years on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in the Division of Infectious Diseases, and was the Director of Clinical Services for the Baltimore City Health Department STD/HIV program. Dr. Erbelding received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Cornell University and her medical degree from Indiana University School of Medicine. She completed her residency in internal medicine at Northwestern University Medical Center and her fellowship in infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins.

Benjamin M. Greenberg, MD, MHS

Dr. Greenberg is Vice Chair of Translational Research and the Cain Denius Scholar in Mobility Disorders in the Department of Neurology and Neurotherapeuticsexternal icon and the Department of Pediatricsexternal icon at The University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center.

He received a Bachelor’s Degree in the History of Medicine from the Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Health Sciences Degree in Microbiology and Immunology from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. From there, he received his MD from the Baylor College of Medicine and then completed a residency in neurology at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Prior to his recruitment to UT Southwestern in 2009, Dr. Greenberg was on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins Division of Neuroimmunology, serving as the Director of the Encephalitis Center and Co-director of the nation’s first dedicated Transverse Myelitis Center.

He serves as Director of the Neuroimmunology Program including the Multiple Sclerosis Center, Transverse Myelitis and Neuromyelitis Optica Programexternal icon, and the Pediatric CONQUER Programexternal icon at the Children’s Medical Center. He is currently the Vice Chair of Translational Research for the Department of Neurology and directs the Neurosciences Translational Research Center at UT Southwestern.

His research focuses on improving the diagnosis, prognostication, and treatment of inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system. He also coordinates clinical trials to evaluate new treatments to prevent neurologic damage and restore function to affected patients. Dr. Greenberg has treated and followed patients with AFM since before 2014, and has served as the principal investigator for the largest prospective study of outcomes in pediatric myelitis.

Bryan Grenfell, PhD

Dr. Grenfell is a population biologist, focusing in particular on the dynamics and control of infectious diseases in space and time. He combines the development of theory with analyses of empirical data sets from a range of infections, focusing especially on acute immunizing pathogens.

Following a PhD in ecology at the University of York, UK, Grenfell taught at The University of Sheffield, University of Cambridge, and Penn State. He is currently a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. Grenfell is a Fellow of The Royal Society of London, of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Tory P. Johnson, PhD, MS

Dr. Johnson is an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in the Department of Neurology, Division of Neuroimmunology.

Dr. Johnson has diverse training as an evolutionary biologist, virologist, neuroscientist, and molecular immunologist. Her specific expertise lies in understanding the neuropathogenesis of immune and infectious processes impacting the central nervous system. Using combined biochemical and bioinformatic approaches, the Johnson lab detects the presence of autoimmune processes or infectious processes and the neurologic targets of these processes in patients with CNS diseases. Dr. Johnson studies rare diseases, such as AFM. By studying individual patients, new immune specificities and rare manifestations of infections that contribute to neurologic disease have already been discovered. Once identified, additional studies to understand the mechanisms of pathogenic immune cells, antibodies, and infections are undertaken using cellular and animal models. These studies are focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms by which these immune or infectious processes cause neuronal dysfunction and death, characterizing the expression of antigens or receptors in the human brain, and modeling the formation and consequences of immune responses or infections in murine models. Dr. Johnson has a strong track record of developing methodology to answer relevant questions and has a broad repertoire of technical and scientific understanding.

Bonnie A. Maldonado, MD

Dr. Maldonado is Chief of the Division of Infectious Disease and Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Health Research and Policy at the Stanford University School of Medicine, with more than 30 years of highly regarded experience in pediatric infectious diseases. Her research interests have focused on epidemiologic aspects of viral vaccine utilization and prevention of perinatal HIV transmission, and she has conducted her research in Zimbabwe and Mexico, as well as in the United States. Her immunization projects have included work toward the global eradication of polio and on better understanding immune response to measles vaccine among young infants. Dr. Maldonado is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), serving as vice-chair of the AAP’s Committee on Infectious Diseases and member of the AAP Global Vaccine Advocacy Committee; member of the executive committee of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society; and member of The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. In addition, she has served as a reviewer of several clinical journals, including The Journal of Infectious Diseases, The New England Journal of Medicine, The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, and Vaccine.

Kevin Messacar, MD

Dr. Messacar is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the sections of hospital medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Colorado and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He completed undergraduate and medical degrees at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and a pediatric residency and pediatric infectious disease fellowship at the University of Colorado in Aurora, where he is pursuing a PhD in clinical investigations. His research focuses on improving the diagnosis, management, and prevention of central nervous system infections in children. He and colleagues at Children’s Hospital Colorado described one of the initial clusters of children presenting with AFM associated with an outbreak of enterovirus D68 in the United States in 2014. Since that time, his research team has helped characterize the natural history and long-term outcomes of the disease, investigate potential causal relationships with enteroviruses, and evaluate the efficacy of treatment modalities being utilized in AFM. Improved surveillance, preparedness, and development of prevention strategies are future directions being pursued.

John F. Modlin, MD

Dr. Modlin is Deputy Director for Polio Research and Policy at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine (Emeritus) at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, where he was Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Senior Advising Dean until he joined the Foundation in 2013. Dr. Modlin graduated from the Duke University School of Medicine, completed pediatric residency and infectious diseases fellowship training at Boston Children’s Hospital and Beth Israel Hospital, and served as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before taking sequential faculty positions at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Dartmouth. His career interests include perinatal viral infections, enterovirus infections, poliovirus immunization, and vaccine public policy. Among other leadership positions, Dr. Modlin has served as Chair of the FDA Antiviral Drugs Advisory Committee, Chair of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and Chair of the FDA Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. He has authored or co-authored more than 250 papers in the medical literature.

Avi Nath, MD

Dr. Nath is the Clinical Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. He is also the Chief of the Section of Infections of the Nervous System and Director of the Translational Neuroscience Center. Before moving to NIH, he was the Director of the Division of Neuroimmunology and Neurological Infections and Professor of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University from 2002–11. He is the past president of the International Society of Neurovirology (ISNV) and a recipient of the Pioneer award from the ISNV. He is also the past Chief of the Section of Neurological Infections of the American Academy of Neurology. He serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Neurovirology and an Editor of Frontiers in Neurology.

His research expertise is in understanding the neurological manifestations and neuropathogenesis of re-emerging viral infections using in vitro and animal models. He has been at the forefront of several epidemics including HIV infection, Ebola, Zika, and Nodding syndrome. In particular, his laboratory studies patients with neuroinflammatory disorders of unclear etiology. In doing so, they have identified unusual manifestations of common pathogens, novel immune mediated disorders, or rare pathogens. At NIH, he also conducts clinical trials in patients with rare CNS infections.

Carlos Pardo-Villamizar, MD

Dr. Pardo-Villamizar is a clinical neurologist and neuropathologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Division of Neuroimmunology and Neuroinfectious Disorders. He is the principal investigator of the Neuroimmunopathology Laboratory. Dr. Pardo’s research interest and laboratory work focuses on studies of the immunopathologic and molecular mechanisms of neuroimmune disorders and neuroinfectious disorders; the roles of cytokines and chemokines in pathogenic mechanisms of neurological disorders; studies of biomarkers of neuroimmunologic disease in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and blood; and animal models of neuroimmunologic disorders.

As a clinician, Dr. Pardo focuses on neuroinfectious and neuroimmune disorders such as myelitis, neurosarcoidosis, multiple sclerosis, and viral disorders of the nervous system. He is the director of the Johns Hopkins Transverse Myelitis Center, a multidisciplinary group established since 1999 and focused on studies of spinal cord disorders associated with inflammation, autoimmunity, infection, and vascular diseases. His interest on AFM focuses on clinical diagnosis and management of patients during the acute phase of disease, neuroimaging studies, and outcomes. His laboratory research on AFM focuses on pathogen discovery using next generation sequencing, characterization of antibody responses for identification of pathogens, and target antigens and biomarker discovery.

Cristina Sadowsky, MD

Dr. Sadowsky is Clinical Director of the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, a program caring for both children and adults with spinal cord–related paralysis and built on the philosophy that functional restoration is activity dependent and can be best achieved through structured medico-rehabilitative interventions. She is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Spinal Cord Injury Medicine. Dr. Sadowsky’s research interests center on prevention of complications in children and adults with paralysis related to traumatic and non-traumatic spinal cord dysfunction, including AFM and the efficacy of activity-based restorative therapies (ABRT) in helping individuals with long-term paralysis recover sensation, movement, and independence. She thoroughly enjoys mentoring individuals passionate for the care of individuals with disabilities.

Matthew Schniederjan, MD

Biography available soon

Nathaniel Smith, MD, MPH

Dr. Smith has served as Director and State Health Officer for the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) since 2013. He is a member of the Governor’s cabinet and provides senior scientific and executive leadership for the agency. He previously served the ADH as Branch Chief for Infectious Diseases, State Epidemiologist, and Deputy Director for Public Health Programs. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases, and holds voluntary faculty positions in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine and in the Epidemiology Department at the College of Public Health. His clinical interests include HIV, tropical medicine, and emerging infectious diseases.

Dr. Smith currently serves as president-elect of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and chairs ASTHO’s Infectious Disease Policy Committee. He serves as ASTHO liaison to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and previously served on the National Vaccine Advisory Committee. Dr. Smith is interested in how emerging infectious diseases impact state public health and has broad experience in coordinating state public health response to infectious disease epidemics. AFM is of particular interest to him since the underlying etiology is still unclear, and state public health leaders need clear guidance and direction in how to appropriately partner with the CDC in responding to this public health threat.

Tina Tan, MD

Biography available soon

Jill Taylor, PhD

Dr. Taylor is Director of the Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, the state’s public health reference laboratory and a premier institution for basic and directed research. She has extensive experience and expertise in public health and laboratory research, particularly related to the prevention and control of infectious diseases. Additionally, she serves as the Director-of-Record for the Wadsworth Center’s clinical laboratory. Prior to assuming the directorship, Dr. Taylor held various other leadership and research scientist positions at the Center and served as a senior research scientist at Virogenetics Corporation. At Wadsworth, Dr. Taylor has worked closely with national, state, and local organizations on infectious disease prevention and control. Among her professional activities, she has served and held leadership positions on committees of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

Kenneth L. Tyler, MD

Dr. Tyler received his BA from Harvard University and MD from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He trained in internal medicine at Brigham Hospital and in neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by postdoctoral fellowship in Microbiology & Molecular Genetics at Harvard Medical School. He joined the University of Colorado School of Medicine in 1991, became Chair of the Department of Neurology in 2009, and is the Louise Baum Endowed Chair of Neurology (and Professor of Medicine [Infectious Disease] and Immunology-Microbiology).

Dr. Tyler is a member of the Association of American Physicians, the American Society for Clinical Investigation, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a past Chair of NIH’s Clinical Neuroimmunology & Brain Tumors (CNBT) Study Section and of Zika virus-related Special Emphasis Panels. He serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Neurovirology, and is currently on the editorial boards of Neurology, JAMA Neurology, Annals of Neurology, Experimental Neurology, Virology, Journal of Infectious Disease, Apoptosis and Microbial Pathogenesis.

Dr. Tyler is an internationally recognized authority in the area of infections of the nervous system. He has made seminal contributions to understanding the molecular pathogenesis of viral infections. His contributions include identifying viral genes involved in determining pathways of viral spread to the CNS, characterizing the role of defined components of the host’s immune response in the protection against CNS infection and identifying key cellular pathways involved in mediating virus-induced neural cell death, and developing novel animal models to study CNS viral infections, including those caused by West Nile and EV-D68.

Arun Venkatesan, MD, PhD

Dr. Venkatesan is an Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in the Department of Neurology, Division of Neuroimmunology and Neuroinfectious Diseases, where he also serves as the Director of the Johns Hopkins Encephalitis Center. He received his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1994, followed by a PhD in microbiology and immunology and an MD from the University of California, Los Angeles. He completed his residency in neurology and fellowship in neuroinfectious diseases at Johns Hopkins, after which he was appointed to the faculty in the Department of Neurology in 2007. Dr. Venkatesan directs clinical activities and research at the Johns Hopkins Encephalitis Center, where he has developed a multidisciplinary program devoted to delineating pathogenesis and optimizing diagnosis and management of patients with infectious and autoimmune encephalitis. His laboratory research focuses on defining mechanisms of brain and spinal cord injury in the setting of infection and neuroinflammation, with a goal towards developing protective and regenerative strategies for conditions such as encephalitis and acute flaccid myelitis. He has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund.

Page last reviewed: October 8, 2019