Nicole Henwood M.D., President and CEO
Dr. Henwood is the mother of A.J. Henwood (age 7), a vibrant and loving child who was diagnosed in early 2018 with NF2. She is a physician and did work during her college years at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Human Gene Therapy. Dr. Henwood has chosen to use her background to find a treatment for her son and others affected with NF2. She graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2000 with a degree in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania where she was selected for Phi Beta Kappa. She attended Weill Cornell Medical College where she received her M.D. in 2006, and she completed a residency in Anesthesiology in 2010 at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Gilles Atlan, Vice-President
Gilles has 20 years of experience in the software industry, and currently works for SAP Labs as an Innovation Manager. Gilles’s daughter, Karen, was diagnosed at age of 6 due to a juvenile cataract. Today Karen is 11 and already has undergone 3 surgeries (2 eyes, 1 brain). Gilles grew up in France, lived near San Francisco for more than 10 years, and today is based in Israel. He holds a BSc in Mechanical Engineering from Ben Gurion University and a MSc in Computer Science from University of Manchester UK. Gilles specializes in innovation methodologies and user engagement and would like to apply these skills to grow and develop NF2 BioSolutions (NBS). Gilles strongly believes that gene therapy is the best hope for a better future for NF2 patients.
Bryan Clay, Director
Bryan is a nonprofit regional consultant with Vanguard. He works with all types of nonprofit organizations including endowments, foundations, and health care organizations to find investment solutions best tailored to meet their specific investment objectives. Before joining Vanguard’s nonprofit team, he held a variety of sales roles working with Financial Advisors and had previously been a successful entrepreneur of a local Rita’s Water Ice franchise. He is a graduate of Millersville University and in his free time he enjoys playing golf, traveling to warm destinations and spending time with his family and friends. Bryan is excited to be part of the organization so he can share his knowledge and help the organization understand the complexities of the global financial markets.
R. Stephen Cooke, MD, Director
Dr. Cooke is the father of his beautiful daughter, Victoria. She was diagnosed with NF2 in 2017 at the age of 10. Victoria is deeply spiritual and extremely considerate of others.
Dr. Cooke obtained a BS degree in Biology from the University of Southern Mississippi. He attended medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA. He completed his Anesthesia residency at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. After his residency, he continued his training at Emory University completing a Cardiac Anesthesia Fellowship. He has been a practicing anesthesiologist in Columbus, OH since 1999. He is devoted to helping his daughter in defeating NF2.
Vito Grasso, Director
Vito Grasso is the father of a daughter with NF2. He is executive vice president of the New York State Academy of Family Physicians which represents more than 6,000 Family Physicians and medical students in New York. He has a master’s degree in public administration and holds the certified association executive professional credential conferred by the American Society of Association Executives. He was executive director of the Capital District Chapter of the national Multiple Sclerosis Society for 9 years and has also served as executive director of the NY Public Welfare Association. He was also communications director for the Professional Insurance Agents Association of NY, NJ and CT. He began his career as a legislative analyst and communications specialist for the New York State Assembly. He has served on many non-profit and professional association boards. He and his wife, Susan, live in Brunswick, NY. He is the author of John Connors, Artist From Troy. He is president of the University Club of Albany Foundation.
Randall D. Learish, Ph.D., Director
Dr. Learish received his degree in Biology from Westminster College, his Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and did his postdoctoral work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He worked for Promega Corporation until 2008 when he joined Cellular Dynamics International as a senior scientist. He has led projects that include the creation of human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines, genetic engineering of iPSC lines with lineage specific promoters, differentiation of iPSCs into cardiomyocytes (CM) or neurons, and development of large scale processes to manufacture cells. He is currently setting up a facility to manufacture dopaminergic neurons in a GMP environment, with the intention of supporting an investigational new drug (IND) application for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. He and his wife, Lisa, have two children. Lisa was diagnosed with mosaic NF2 in 2013. Randy hopes to use his experience in translational research to advance treatment strategies for NF2, and to find a cure. Randy also serves on the Scientific Advisory Board is NF2 BioSolutions.
John Manth, Director
John Manth is the father of Leah Manth who was diagnosed with NF2 in 2007 when she was just 7 years old. John and his family are dedicated to finding meaningful treatments and a cure for NF2. In addition to NF2 BioSolutions John serves on the Board of Directors of Neurofibromatosis Northeast, as well as the NF Network, where he is the Vice President. Since Leah’s diagnosis the Manth Family and Friends have raised $500,000 and sponsored 11 NF2 research studies. John is a staunch advocate for federal funding for NF research and assists in coordinating, training and mentoring NF families attending the NF Network’s annual trip to Washington DC. He has extensive experience in fund raising, non-profit organisational leadership, advocacy, and NF outreach. John, his wife Linda and Dr. Scott Plotkin co-wrote a booklet entitled “Understanding NF2” published by NF Network. He has also written articles on various NF topics. Additionally, he has presented at NF Symposiums and has facilitated many NF family and patient discussions. John teaches undergraduate courses in Violence, Global Crime, and Comparative Criminal Justice at Hilbert College in Hamburg, NY as well as a Criminal Justice Career Program to high school students. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology from University of Maryland and a Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice and Education from Buffalo State College.
Christopher Serle, Director
Chris is a former Navy SEAL who was injured in Afghanistan in 2012 and received the Purple Heart for his valiant service. Upon leaving the Navy, he graduated Summa Cum Laude from Old Dominion University and has chosen to continue a life of service by attending medical school at Eastern Virginia Medical school starting in August 2018. He is also A.J.’s uncle and loves him deeply. Chris has pledged to spend his life and his medical career researching and treating NF2 with the goal of one day being able to help his nephew and others suffering from the condition.
Jill Velez, Director
Jill is an NF2 advocate for her creative and fun-loving daughter. Jill’s daughter, Laurel, was diagnosed in 2017 at the age of 10. Living in Southern California, Jill holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration from the University of Delaware where she graduated Cum Laude, and a master’s degree in illustration from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Jill co-owns a luxury design and printing business specializing in the billion-dollar wedding industry. Jill’s efforts focus in fundraising and patient advocacy with the determination that a cure will come for her daughter and others who suffer from NF2.
Elizabeth Henwood, Secretary
Elizabeth “Penny” Henwood is A.J.’s grandmother and shares Nicole’s vision of finding a treatment for NF2. She enjoys giving back to the community and has a particular interest in the NF2 cause. She is a public notary and has extensive organizational and office management experience.