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American Brain Foundation Announces New Board Leadership

Media Contact:
Jane Ransom, Executive Director, American Brain Foundation
[email protected]
(612) 928-6317

Minneapolis – Today, the American Brain Foundation (ABF) announced the appointment of four new officers and five new directors to its board of directors. Terms began January 1, 2020.

“The new officers and directors represent cross-sector expertise and leadership,” said Jane Ransom, ABF Executive Director. “Our research mission to cure brain diseases and disorders will surely be accelerated through their influence and leadership.”

New Officers

David W. Dodick, MD was named Chair. Dr. David W. Dodick is Professor of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is also Director of the Headache Program and Sport Neurology and Concussion Program at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Neurosciences at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim Norway.

In addition to chairing the ABF board, Dr. Dodick chairs the American Migraine Foundation, International Concussion Society, International Registry for Migraine Research, and International Headache Society Global Patient Advocacy Coalition. He is co-chair of the International Headache Academy, American Registry for Migraine Research, American Academy of Neurology’s (AAN) Annual Program Concussion Committee, and AAN’s Annual Sports Concussion Conference. He has authored more than 400 peer-reviewed publications and 10 books.

“After 30 years of training, learning, teaching, and researching in the field of neurology and caring for patients impacted by neurological diseases, I am profoundly humbled and honored to be named Chair of the American Brain Foundation,” said Dr. Dodick.

“ABF has the potential to become the nation’s largest charitable organization of the brain and fund research that will cure one and cure many neurological diseases. Together with the incredible group of passionate, committed, and talented members of the ABF board, and through our strategic partnership with the American Academy of Neurology, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to move us toward this goal,” said Dr. Dodick.

Susan Schneider Williams was named Vice Chair. Susan Schneider Williams is a professional fine artist, author, and advocate for brain disease research.

In 2013, Schneider Williams’ late husband, actor and comedian Robin Williams, began to suffer the debilitating symptoms of the brain disease Lewy body dementia (LBD). Undiagnosed until after his death in August 2014, LBD destroyed Williams’ life and caused him to experience unbearable anxiety, delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations. Often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, LBD affects an estimated 1.4 million individuals and their families in the United States.

Since her husband’s death, Schneider Williams has made it her mission to raise awareness about LBD and advocate on behalf of brain disease research. She authored the editorial, “The terrorist inside my husband’s brain,” for the American Academy of Neurology’s (AAN) Neurology journal and has presented at many conferences, academic institutions, and private research corporations. In 2016, Schneider Williams was presented with ABF’s Commitment to Cures Award in recognition of her advocacy for better treatments, prevention, and cures for brain diseases. She has lobbied in Washington, DC with the AAN, Michael J. Fox Foundation, and others for better diagnostics, increased funding, and support for researchers, doctors, and clinicians.

“The American Brain Foundation’s focus—when we cure one brain disease, we will cure many—is exactly what we need to make advancements in brain disease research. Robin was diagnosed with both Parkinson’s Disease and Lewy body dementia, and these two diseases have very closely related pathology—that is, they both have Lewy bodies in the brain. In the search to understand the common mechanisms by which Lewy bodies are produced and neurons subsequently degenerate, researchers could end up unlocking a cure for multiple diseases,” said Schneider Williams. “As Vice Chair, I will help advance the ABF’s mission to ensure researchers are getting the funds they need to go after these brain diseases.”

James A. Essey was named Treasurer. Essey is president and CEO of The TemPositions Group of Companies, one of the largest regional staffing firms in the nation. The company provides temporary/contract, temp-to-perm and permanent placement staffing in accounting and finance, information technology, office support, human resources, legal, hospitality, logistics, education, and health care. Under Essey’s leadership, TemPositions is one of the few full-service staffing companies in the market today, employing approximately 6,500 people each year.

Advocating for the treatment and cure of brain disease is a family value. Essey’s mother, Sheila, was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and lived courageously with the debilitating disease for 10 years.

In her honor, the Sheila Essey Award was established in 1996 by the American Academy of Neurology and ALS Association and funded by the Essey family through the American Brain Foundation. Annually, the award recognizes significant contributions in research towards the cause, treatment, prevention, or cure of ALS. Awardees receive a certificate of recognition and a $50,000 prize to fund their ALS research.

“I was flattered to be asked to join the ABF board so I could help have an impact in the treatment and eventual cure of brain disease which affects so many people each and every day,” said Essey. “As Treasurer, I hope to help guide the organization to be even more successful in raising the funds necessary to make a meaningful difference to those suffering from all forms of brain disease and hopefully, prevent others from being afflicted.”

Shafali Jeste, MD was named Secretary. Dr. Jeste is a behavioral child neurologist specializing in autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders. She is Associate Professor in Psychiatry, Neurology and Pediatrics at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and a lead investigator within the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment.

Her research is focused on developing methods to improve diagnosis and treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) through the application of brain-based biomarkers and more targeted developmental phenotyping. Her lab studies NDDs from early infancy through late childhood.

Dr. Jeste designed innovative studies in early predictors of autism in Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC), which integrates biomarkers with behavior to define atypical development prior to the onset of clinical symptoms of autism. Her work in TSC has led to the first randomized controlled clinical trial of behavioral intervention in infants with TSC.

Dr. Jeste also serves on the board of the National Organization of Rare Disorders, chairs the International Baby Siblings Research Consortium, and is editor-in-chief of the Child Neurology Edition of AAN Continuum. Dr. Jeste’s research is funded by the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Defense, Dup15q Alliance, and Roche pharmaceuticals. She recently was awarded the prestigious 2019 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

“I dedicated my career to autism because there are still so many unknowns for which we need answers to best help our patients. I joined the American Brain Foundation board to give back to the neurology community, as the ABF and American Academy of Neurology were the first organizations to fund my research more than 10 years ago,” said Dr. Jeste. “As Secretary, I look forward to this expanded role and working with this inspirational group of clinicians, scientists, and advocates to improve public awareness about and funding for cutting edge and impactful research in neurodevelopmental disorders.”

New Directors

James Erwin
Jimmy Erwin is Executive Vice President of Chicago Title Commercial in Houston, responsible for all marketing innovation, strategy, and activities. He is a respected leader in the title industry, working in partnership with financial institutions, developers, and investors to resolve title challenges and meet real estate objectives.

Erwin is also President of the Will Erwin Headache Research Foundation (WEHRF). Finding a cure for diseases and disorders of the brain is a personal quest for Erwin and wife, Pam. In 2014, they co-founded WEHRF, a nonprofit dedicated to finding a cure for debilitating headaches, including migraine and cluster headaches, and relief for sufferers.

The Erwins’ named the foundation in honor of their son, Will, who suffered from debilitating cluster headaches beginning in 2008. With no effective treatment available, excruciating pain, and no hope, Will took his own life in 2010 at the age of 24.

Through the WEHRF, the Erwin family continues the journey started by their courageous son. “Will was a true pain warrior. It is now our family’s commitment to help others avoid the painful experience he endured,” said Erwin. “I am honored to join the ABF Board and support an organization that is as committed to finding cures for these debilitating diseases and bring peace to all the pain warriors and their families.”

Jacqueline French, MD
Dr. Jacqueline French is Chief Medical and Innovation Officer of the national Epilepsy Foundation (Maryland); a professor in the Department of Neurology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine; and co-director of epilepsy research and epilepsy clinical trials at NYU Langone Health’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center. She is also the president of the Epilepsy Study Consortium, a nonprofit comprised of scientific investigators dedicated to the speedy delivery of new therapies to people with epilepsy.

“I am thrilled to join the American Brain Foundation board,” said Dr. French. “Epilepsy affects one out of every 26 people in their lifetime. I am looking forward to joining with my colleagues to fight this and the other serious brain diseases that have such a profound impact not only on those living with the disorders, but also their families and communities.”

Frances E. Jensen, MD
Dr. Frances E. Jensen is Professor of Neurology, Chair of Neurology, and Co-Director of Penn Translational Neuroscience Center in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on epilepsy and stroke and how epilepsy interacts with other disorders, such as autism and dementia, with a goal of revealing new therapies for the development of clinical trials.

To advocate for awareness of adolescent brain development and put the latest research in the hands of parents of teenagers, Dr. Jensen co-authored, “The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults” (Harper Collins, April 2015). Translated and published in over 25 languages worldwide, the book illuminates what science has discovered about the adolescent brain and explains it in the contexts of the everyday life of an average teenager.

“I am excited to be part of this board. The ABF slogan, ‘cure one, cure many’ perfectly encapsulates my own perspective on the field,” Dr. Jensen said. “With all the recent advances in basic neuroscience and clinical investigation, we are recognizing that there are many elements common to multiple disorders. This has huge opportunities for accelerating therapy and biomarker development. The ABF is uniquely positioned to fund research that crosses multiple domains within neuropsychiatric research.”

Cindy McCain
Cindy McCain has dedicated her life to improving the safety, health, and well-being of women, children, and families in the United States and around the world.

As Chair of the McCain Institute for International Leadership and its Human Trafficking Advisory Council, McCain’s state, national, and international leadership to end labor and sex trafficking has resulted in increased awareness, public advocacy, policy change, prevention, funding for service providers, and safe housing and trauma-informed services for survivors.

McCain’s advocacy to ensure health and well-being for all includes combating diseases of the brain. The work is deeply personal. In August 2018, McCain’s husband, the late U.S. Senator John McCain, died of a glioblastoma, an aggressive form of malignant brain tumor. On July 17, 2019, the McCain family honored him on the nation’s first Glioblastoma Awareness Day, which aims to raise awareness, increase funding for research, and find a cure.

Years before her husband was diagnosed with the disease in 2017, McCain publicly shared her battle with debilitating migraines, advocacy for migraine sufferers, and calls for increased funding for research.

“I wasn’t accurately diagnosed with migraines until I was 40,” said McCain in an interview with Brain & Life® magazine. “Prior to that, I saw many doctors who seemed condescending and wrote me off as a ‘neurotic senator’s wife’ . . . If I — as a prominent person — was being brushed off by doctors, what about the mother of four in a small rural community whose migraines are never taken seriously?”

Sean C. Sansiveri
Sansiveri is Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs for the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), the labor union that represents National Football League (NFL) players, past and present.

In this role, Sansiveri leads the NFLPA’s health, safety, and medical research initiatives, including its research and commercialization partnerships with Harvard University, the Dementia Discovery Fund, and MIACH Orthopaedics.

In 2019, Sansiveri spearheaded the union’s efforts to implement a comprehensive mental health and wellness program in the NFL, including the hiring of behavioral health clinicians by each team. In 2016, Sansiveri was instrumental in an agreement between the NFLPA and NFL to standardize protocols governing the evaluation and management of concussions. The agreement included team-specific emergency action plans and independent concussion experts on the sidelines of all NFL games.

“We continually strive to improve the health of our members and safety of their workplace. On behalf of the player-patient, the NFLPA is committed to getting the right answers, to working with those with the shared goal of protecting our members, and to serving as a model for football at every level,” said Sansiveri. “I am thrilled to join the ABF board because scientific advancements and a greater understanding of the issues that affect the health and safety of athletes can be instrumental to the advancement of healthcare, generally.”

About the American Brain Foundation:
The American Brain Foundation brings researchers and donors together to cure brain diseases and disorders. To learn more, visit our website and find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.