Brain Trust for Tropical Disease Research and Prevention

Bringing together experts to help expedite diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of tropical diseases

Strategy and Goals

The Puerto Rico Brain Trust for Tropical Disease Research and Prevention is a research and development organization that brings together scientists from multidisciplinary backgrounds to guide, strategize, connect and provide technical and subject matter support on research initiatives in tropical diseases focusing in areas of rapid diagnostic test design, vaccine development and trials, and vector control all leading to improved patient care and preparedness. The aim of the Brain Trust is to accelerate research into translational work that will result in prevention and improved treatment.


The mission of the Puerto Rico Brain Trust for Tropical Disease Research and Prevention is to promote research and development in area of tropical diseases that will accelerate their prevention and control.


The vision of the Brain Trust is a world free of tropical diseases.

The Roles of the Brain Trust are to:

  • conduct timely scientific forums for advancement of tropical disease research and prevention in Puerto Rico,
  • connect experts from multidisciplinary backgrounds to collaboratively advance science, promote preparedness, and improve patient care in the area of tropical disease research and prevention,
  • strategize and advise key decision makers in matters of science, technology and research related to tropical disease research and prevention, and
  • contribute to the technological renaissance of Puerto Rico by promoting Puerto Rico as a hub for tropical disease research and prevention initiatives.

Our Team


Executive Director

Dr. Jose F. Cordero is the Patel Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Chair, of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia.  He joined the UGA on August 2015. He served for 27 years in the US Public Health Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During his years at CDC he was appointed Assistant Surgeon General of the Public Health Service and held positions focused on improving the health of mothers, children and adults in programs such as immunizations, birth defects and disabilities. In 1994, he was appointed Deputy Director of the National Immunization Program and in 2001 he was selected as the founding Director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, the position that he held until his retirement.

He served as the Dean of the School of Public Health in the University of Puerto Rico from 2006-2015. A former President of Teratology Society, he is Co-Principal investigator of the Puerto Rico Test site for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT) a Superfund Research Program that examines environmental risks for preterm births, and CRECE (Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development in Puerto Rico) that examines prenatal exposures and their impact on neurodevelopment in the first five years of life. Dr. Cordero serves as advisor of the Americas Dengue Board and is member of the International Data Monitoring Committee for the Sanofi Pasteur Dengue Vaccine. He is the Principal Investigator of the Brain Trust for Tropical Disease Research and Prevention, a group that seeks to facilitate and accelerate the development of rapid tests for diseases like Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya and others. He also serves as the National Trustee of the March of Dimes, a foundation with a mission of helping mothers have healthy pregnancies and to fund research on the problems that threaten the health of babies.


BRAIN TRUST Program Manager

Ms. Leslie Maas Cortes runs the day-to-day operations of the Puerto Rico Brain Trust for Tropical Disease Research and Prevention. She has worked closely with Dr. Jose Cordero to create the Trust since December of 2014. Prior to this she worked as a public health consultant for the Puerto Rico Governor’s Commission for Violence Prevention and the University of Puerto Rico federally funded Center for Youth Violence Prevention. Her main focus was on improved quality of data and monitoring of violent events and evaluation of interventions being conducted at the Center for Youth Violence Prevention.  Leslie has also been an active volunteer for the US fund for UNICEF.

She served as coordinator of the Wisconsin Injury Control Research Center and director of the CDC funded regional Injury Control Research Center (ICRC) at the Medical College of Wisconsin from 1999 until 2003. She was responsible for operations at the ICRC and their mission was to reduce the burden of illness and death from injury related causes. Her specific research focused on water safety, injury risk to international travelers and patient safety efforts. In this role she gained experience in meeting planning, site visit preparations, and grant preparation.

Before beginning her career, Leslie completed her graduate work in the area of International Health and applied nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her masters work involved conducting extensive anthropometric data collection and nutritional surveys, qualitative field work and intervention development to reduce obesity and diabetes in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Technical Meeting 1:
Developing a Diagnostic Test for Chikungunya, Dengue, Zika, Influenza and Leptospirosis

The meeting on rapid diagnostic testing for zika, chikungunya, dengue, leptospirosis and influenza, an initiative of the Puerto Rico Brain Trust for Tropical Disease Research and Prevention was held February 8-10, 2016 at the Puerto Rico Trust for Science, Technology and Research. The main focus of this meeting was to discuss how to best develop a rapid diagnostic test to differentiate between Zika, dengue, chikungunya, influenza and leptospirosis.

Meeting Summary (PDF)
Participants List (PDF)

Technical Meeting 2:
Vector Control

Vector Control Meeting Agenda
Vector Control Meeting Participants

Findings from the Technical Workshop to Create a Safe, Effective and Integrated Strategy for the Control and Elimination of Aedes aegypti from Puerto Rico

This Technical Workshop can be summarized by five points:

  • The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the root cause of Dengue Fever, Chikungunya and Zika transmission.
  • Expert in mosquito control and public health convened in Puerto Rico to determine the feasibility of eliminating Ae. aegypti infestation from the island.
  • There was broad agreement that elimination of  Ae. aegypti and the diseases it carries is complex but feasible through Integrated Vector Management using physical, chemical and biological interventions on an area-wide basis.
  • Public engagement and authorization is critical to program success including buildings partnerships with Puerto Rican communities and stakeholders.
  • Strong leadership, dedicated program management, and autonomy of the entity charged with the execution of this campaign are essential to successful elimination
Vector Control Workshop


Technical Meeting 3:
Developing Arbovirus Diagnostic Laboratory Capacity


This meeting brought together scientists, test developers, reference laboratories that administer and develop tests in Puerto Rico, representatives of the American Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) and the Caribbean Lab Association, experts in building interdependent lab networks, companies related to this industry and representative from Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) who all have an interest in improving arbovirus diagnostics in Puerto Rico. This two-day meeting was held in July of 2017 at the Trust.

During the group discussion of the Arbovirus Disease Diagnostic Symposium a consensus was reached that the most important next steps towards the achievement of a responsive and integrated Arboviral diagnostic infrastructure for Puerto Rico are as follows:

  • Gather and analyze basic descriptive epidemiological data on the prevalence and incidence of Arboviral disease along with increased data on etiology and epidemiology of emerging infectious agents in order to accurately communicate the magnitude of the problem for Puerto Rico and Caribbean Region to the U.S. Federal Government agencies and private foundations
  • Facilitate clinical reference laboratories collaboration with the New York State Department of Health, Puerto Rico Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust to build an Immediate Management Response System for Puerto Rico and to insure a complete and consistent use of the testing algorithm by all labs participating in outbreak responses.
  • Create a working group comprised of clinical laboratories that will meet 1-2 times per month at the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust with the goal of putting into place the Immediate Management Response Systems for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean for increased preparedness. This working group will be facilitated by the Brain Trust for Tropical Disease Research and Prevention.
  • Explore the access to patient samples and the alternative use of artificial RNA as an option in the initial implementation phases of diagnostic test development.
  • Include representative from the insurance industry in the proposed working group so that test development and test administration can be offered at a sensible price point to patients, but will also help cover the laboratories’ expenses associated with test development and administration.
Final Report (PDF)


Leslie Maas Cortes, MHS
PR Brain Trust Program Manager