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Symposium Speakers

Ana Aguilar-Bonilla, MD

Ana Aguilar-Bonilla, MD

Dr. Aguilar-Bonilla joined the team at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in 2015. She completed a clinical pediatric neuro-oncology fellowship at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Under the mentorship of renowned neuro-oncologists Dr. Girish Dhall and Dr. Jonathan Finlay, Dr. Aguilar developed an interest for early phase clinical trials and medical outreach, participating in annual meetings in Central America and weekly online educational meetings with physicians from Central and South America. Dr. Aguilar’s main research area of interest is drug discovery with a focus on immunotherapy and immune modulation of the tumor microenvironment. She currently serves as the director of the Neurofibromatosis Clinic as well as the co-director of the Tuberous Sclerosis Clinic at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer.


Samer K. Elbabaa, MD, FAANS, FAAP, FACS

Samer K. Elbabaa, MD, FAANS, FAAP, FACS

Dr. Elbabaa serves as a board-certified Pediatric Neurosurgeon, Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery and Medical Director of the Leon Pediatric Neuroscience Center of Excellence at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. Dr. Elbabaa earned his medical degree at the University of Jordan in Amman, Jordan. He completed an internship in general surgery and residency in neurosurgery at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before completing a clinical fellowship in pediatric neurosurgery at the Cleveland Clinic and a certification in microsurgery at University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland. Prior to joining Orlando Health, Dr. Elbabaa was the Reinert Endowed Chair in Pediatric Neurosurgery and Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in Saint Louis, Missouri. Dr. Elbabaa currently serves as a Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine and Clinical Professor of Surgery at Florida State University.


David W. Ellison, MD, PhD, FRCP, FRCPath, FRCPCH

David W. Ellison, MD, PhD, FRCP, FRCPath, FRCPCH

David M. Ellison is a neuropathologist and Chairman of Pathology at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He is the Joan and Roy Gignac Endowed Chair in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. After studying psychology at the University of Oxford, he graduated in medicine from the University of Cambridge. Before turning to a career in pathology, Dr. Ellison trained in both general medicine and neurology at National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. He received a Wellcome Trust research fellowship to study neurotransmitter alterations in Huntington disease and Alzheimer disease at Harvard University/Massachusetts General Hospital, in the laboratories of Drs. Flint Beal and E.P. Richardson. Encouraged by his studies in Boston to train in neuropathology, Dr. Ellison returned to England and positions in Oxford and Southampton. Initially, he took a faculty position at the Regional Center for Neurological Diseases in Southampton as a clinician–educator, but a developing academic interest in pediatric brain tumors led to an appointment at the University of Newcastle and subsequent recruitment to St. Jude. Current research interests include the biology of ependymomas and the molecular classification of pediatric CNS tumors. Dr. Ellison has been an editor of two core neuropathology textbooks: Greenfield’s Neuropathology and Neuropathology, a reference text of CNS pathology. He is a senior editor for the WHO classification of CNS tumors.


Cristina Fernandez-Valle, Ph.D.

Cristina Fernandez-Valle, PhD

Dr. Valle is a Pegasus Professor at the University of Central Florida in the Burnett School of Biomedical Science in the College of Medicine. She is internationally recognized for her research over the last 20 years on schwannoma biology related to Neurofibromatosis Type 2. She is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense to develop drug therapies for NF2-schwannomas. Her studies have contributed to ongoing clinical trials for NF2.


Nicholas K. Foreman, MD

Nicholas K. Foreman, MD

Dr. Foreman serves as the Associate Chief of Research for Hematology-Oncology, as a Professor of Pediatrics, and as Seebaum Chair of Pediatric Neuro-Oncology at the Children’s Hospital Colorado. He earned his medical degree and completed his residency at the University of Sheffield in England. He completed a fellowship at St. Jude’s Children’s in Memphis, Tennessee. He has a special interest in developing high dose therapy, local and national protocols for infant brain tumors, as well as the classification, genetic causation, and gene expression of infant brain tumors. In addition to clinical work, Dr. Foreman has his own research lab where they concentrate on the development of novel therapies for pediatric brain tumors, with a special focus on ependymoma. His lab has developed a model of the immuno-environment of poor risk ependymoma Group A, as well as ependymoma cell lines, and they continue to build on this. Dr. Foreman’s published research has paved the way to a broad acceptance of the importance of immunobiology in ependymoma.


Patti and Al Gustafson, Gift from a Child/Swifty

Patti and Al Gustafson, Gift from a Child/Swifty

Patti Gustafson is the Executive Director of the Swifty Foundation, which was started by her son, Michael before his death from medulloblastoma in 2013. Swifty is the catalyst for the national initiative, Gift from a Child, a national post-mortem pediatric tissue donation program in partnership with the Children’s Brain Tumor Network. Patti coordinates the multi-institutional team of tissue navigators who facilitate the logistics of donation and provide support to families.

Patti has a bachelors of art in accounting from Indiana University and worked as a certified public accountant (CPA) before earning a master’s degree in elementary education and becoming a first-grade teacher. While raising her three children she served on the boards of the Ounce of Prevention Fund and the Gustafson Family Foundation. Since Michael died, her full-time professional efforts have been devoted to the mission of the Swifty Foundation.


Jennifer Mason, Gift from a Child/Swifty

Jennifer Mason, Gift from a Child/Swifty

Jennifer Mason is the Clinical and Biospecimen Research Program Manager within the Center for Data Driven Discovery in Biomedicine at CHOP managing multiple clinically annotated biobanking studies across multiple divisions and institutions including pediatric and adult brain tumors, craniofacial, epilepsy, and ENT. Additionally, I am the Director of Operations for the Children’s Brain Tumor Network (CBTN), formerly Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium, providing oversight and management of 26 participating member institutions, including Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and international sites, and the biospecimens, genomic and clinical data being collected.


Ginny McLean, Gift from a Child/Swifty

Ginny McLean, Gift from a Child/Swifty

Ginny McLean is the Outreach and Communications Director for the Swifty Foundation, a nonprofit focused on accelerating research around pediatric brain tumors. Prior to joining Swifty, Ginny was a small business and digital marketing consultant. She brought her widely respected reputation as a digital marketing expert to Swifty Foundation as a consultant and stayed to join the team. Her experience and skill for communications and building meaningful relationships has helped facilitate Swifty’s growing impact in the Childhood Cancer Community.

Ginny helps to lead the Tissue Navigator team and is part of the leadership driving the growth of the Gift from a Child Network. She has developed and implemented a comprehensive database and prospecting workflow as a resource to the team. She has successfully established a collaborative communication environment between the team of navigators across institutions, ensuring families, across the country, are handled with seamless and compassionate care.

Ginny travels on behalf of the organizations; representing Swifty at events, conferences and collaborating with our partner foundations and hospital teams. She seamlessly connects people who can help facilitate funding research and building awareness. Ginny is at home interacting with families, foundation partners and the medical community and weaves conversations between many audiences for greater awareness and impact. Recently named to the Executive Committee for the Coalition Against Childhood Cancer’s Board of Directors, Ginny continues to integrate her passion, and Swifty’s mission into the greater community.


Catherine E. Mercado, MD

Catherine E. Mercado, MD

Dr. Mercado is a radiation oncologist with the Center for Advanced Radiation Therapy at the Orlando Health Cancer Institute. She specializes in pediatric and adult cancer. Dr. Mercado earned her medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and her undergraduate degree from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. She completed her residency in radiation oncology and served as chief resident at University of Florida Shands Hospital and UF Health Proton Therapy Institute in Gainesville and Jacksonville, Florida. During her residency, she received several awards for her research and patient care, including induction into the Gold Humanism Society and the UF College of Medicine Outstanding Educator Award. Dr. Mercado has presented nationally and internationally and published in numerous peer-reviewed medical journals. She provides compassionate care for patients at every stage of cancer and performs advanced procedures such as proton therapy, intensity-modulated radiotherapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, and image-guided radiotherapy.


Michelle Monje, MD, PhD

Michelle Monje, MD, PhD

Dr. Monje is an associate professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University. She received her M.D. and Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Stanford and completed her residency training in neurology at the Massachusetts General Hospital/Brigham and Women's Hospital/Harvard Medical School Partners program, and then returned to Stanford for a clinical fellowship in pediatric neuro-oncology and postdoctoral fellowship in developmental and cancer biology. Dr. Monje is recognized as an international leader in the pathophysiology of glioma, especially diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG)/H3K27M-mutated diffuse midline gliomas and a pioneer in the emerging field of Cancer Neuroscience. Her clinical focus is on childhood glial malignancies and cognitive impairment after childhood cancer therapy. Her laboratory studies neuron-glial interactions in health and disease, with a particular focus on mechanisms and consequences of neuron-glial interactions in health, glial dysfunction in cancer therapy-related cognitive impairment and neuron-glial interactions in malignant glioma. Together with these basic studies, her research program has advanced preclinical studies of novel therapeutics for pediatric high-grade gliomas and cancer therapy-related cognitive impairment in order to translate new therapies to the clinic. She has led several of her discoveries from basic molecular work to clinical trials for children and young adults with brain tumors.


Vikram Prakash, MD

Vikram Prakash, MD

Dr. Prakash is a pediatric neurologist in practice with Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. He is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology with a specialty in child neurology. Dr. Prakash earned his medical degree from Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, India. There, he also completed an internship and a pediatric residency, and went on to complete a child neurology residency at the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, St. Louis University. Before joining Orlando Health, Dr. Prakash served as an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology, Saint Louis University School of Medicine. He has been published in numerous medical journals and currently serves as a reviewer for the Journal of Pediatric Neurology, Child Neurology Open and the Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice. Dr. Prakash is a member of the Child Neurology Society and the American Academy of Neurology.


Amy A. Smith, MD

Amy A. Smith, MD

Dr. Smith is the Division Chief of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology and Neuro-Oncology at Orlando Health-Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. She is responsible for developing the division in areas of clinical care, research, and academic stewardship. Since 2011, Dr. Smith has led the Pediatric Brain Tumor Program and has spent her career caring for infants, children and young adults fighting central nervous system tumors at the Haley Center for Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders. She is the national chair for the world’s largest study of ependymoma; co-chair of the ependymoma sub-committee on the Children’s Oncology Group CNS Steering Committee, the governor’s appointee on Florida’s Cancer Control Research Advisory Board, and on the Pediatric Oncology Experimental Therapeutics Investigators Consortium (POETIC) board of directors. Dr. Smith is committed to building a world class pediatric neuro-oncology program in Florida that uses multidisciplinary care, basic and clinical research, and a comprehensive approach to cure children with CNS tumors.


Laura Wieber, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC

Laura Wieber, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC

Laura is a board-certified family nurse practitioner and a licensed advance practice registered nurse with the Haley Center for Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. Laura earned her master's degree in nursing from the University of Central Florida. She is recognized as a pediatric chemotherapy and biotherapy provider by the Association of Pediatric Hematology/ Oncology Nurses. Laura initiated the only Pediatric Oncofertility Program in the state of Florida and is a member of the Follow-Up After Cancer Treatment (FACT) Program. Laura has participated in the Orlando Health Advanced Leadership Course and earned a Certificate of Excellence for her role in expanding patient enrollment in studies to monitor long term effects. She is a member of Sigma Theta Tau, Honor Society of Nursing, and the Association of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Nurses.


Avery C. Wright, DO

Avery C. Wright, DO

Dr. Wright is a pediatric neuro-oncologist with Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. She is board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in Pediatrics and Pediatric Hematology Oncology and completed additional training in Pediatric Neuro-Oncology at Stanford University. Dr. Wright earned her medical degree from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth and a bachelor’s degree in biology at Texas A&M University in College Station. She completed her residency in pediatrics at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas. During her fellowship in pediatric hematology, oncology and stem cell transplantation at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York she focused on medulloblastoma research. She then completed an additional two years of training in pediatric neuro-oncology at Stanford University and the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, California. In addition to her involvement with several professional societies, including the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Children’s Oncology Group, and Society of Neuro-Oncology, Dr. Wright is an active volunteer, organizing numerous fundraisers for the American Cancer Society.