Dr. Elise Townsend is a physical therapist, developmental scientist, and Board-Certified Specialist in Pediatric Physical Therapy with clinical and research interests in motor assessment and clinical management of children with rare neurogenetic and neuromuscular diseases. She has practiced clinically, engaged in collaborative clinical research, and worked on muscular dystrophy and spinal muscular atrophy clinical drug trials in the Pediatric Neuromuscular and Spinal Muscular Atrophy Clinics at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Earlier in her career, she practiced in Early Intervention for children aged 0-3 years in Charlestown and East Boston communities. Currently, she collaborates with Dr. Florian Eichler and the Center for Rare Neurological Diseases (CRND) at MGH as a Principle and Co-Investigator for clinical trials and clinical research aimed at accelerating progress in care for children with rare neurogenetic conditions.

Dr, Townsend is the Associate Director of the PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences program, an interprofessional program that trains clinical scientists to conduct research in health and rehabilitation-related fields.

  • BA, Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Virginia
  • MPT, Physical Therapy, Emory University
  • DPT, MGH Institute of Health Professions
  • PhD, Child/Developmental Psychology with Neuroscience minor, University of Minnesota

Research Interests

Motor assessment and clinical management of children with rare neuromuscular and neurogenetic diseases.


Flotte TR and UMass team & MGH team: Wishart B, Kiefer M, Townsend E, Eichler F et al. GM2 gene therapy trial findings. Abstract presented at European Society for Gene and Cell Therapy Annual Congress in Edinburgh, UK 11-14 Oct 2022.

Conquest P, McKee B, Cornforth E, Sizemore A, Townsend E, Rutkove S, Wheeler T. Electrical Impedence Myography Predicts Muscle Function in DM1 Patients. Virtual poster presentated at the 13th International Myotonic Dystrophy Consortium Meeting (IDMC-13). June 22, 2022.

Kiefer M, Figueira S, Shellenbarger KC, Jones C, Wong B, Townsend, E. Associations between body composition estimates and motor function in ambulatory individuals with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Poster presented at World Muscle Society (WMS) 2022 Congress in Halifax, Canada Oct 11-15.

Kiefer M, Khan A, Leiro B, Liharska L, Balser J, Kenwood C, Yavorsky C, Laforet G, Kirby K, Townsend E. Transitioning from in-person to remote motor assessment of children with Canavan disease. Abstract presented at 2022 Autumn Conference of the International Society for CNS Clinical Trials and Methodology Sept 8-9, Boston, MA.

Mackey J, Townsend E, Leslie C. Interprofessional Student Learning in an Early Intervention Caregiver Group. Presented as pre-recorded Lightening Talk and live Discussion Panel at the Nexus 2020 Summit of the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education, Interprofessional Clinical Learning Environments Theme, August 13, 2020.

Alves, C. R., Petrillo, M., Spellman, R., Garner, R., Zhang, R., Kiefer, M., Simeone, S. Sohn, J., Eichelberger, E.J., Rodrigues, E., Arruda, E.A., Townsend, E.L., Farwell, W. & Swoboda, K. J. (2021). Implications of circulating neurofilaments for spinal muscular atrophy treatment early in life: A case series. Molecular Therapy-Methods & Clinical Development, 23, 524-538. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.omtm.2021.10.011

Krosschell, K. J., Townsend, E. L., Kiefer, M., Simeone, S. D., Zumpf, K., Welty, L., & Swoboda, K. J. (2021). Natural history of 10-meter walk/run test performance in Spinal Muscular Atrophy: A longitudinal analysis. Neuromuscular Disorders, 32(2), 125-134. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nmd.2021.08.010

Schofield, C., Evans, K., Young, H., Paguinto, S.G., Carroll, K., Townsend, E., Kiefer, M., McGuire, M., Sodhi, J., Bray, P., Bayley, K., Vorster N.M. & Downs, J. (2022). The development of a consensus statement for the prescription of powered wheelchair standing devices in Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Disability and Rehabilitation, 44(10), 1889-97. https://doi.org/10.1080/09638288.2020.1810786

Townsend, E. L., Simeone, S. D., Krosschell, K. J., Zhang, R. Z., & Swoboda, K. J. (2020). Stander use in spinal muscular atrophy: results from a large natural history database. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 32(3), 235-241. doi: 10.1097/PEP.0000000000000713
Yeo, C., Simeone, S. D., Townsend, E. L., Zhang, R. Z., & Swoboda, K. J. (2020). Prospective cohort study of Nusinersen treatment in adults with spinal muscular atrophy. Journal of Neuromuscular Diseases, 7(3), 257–268. https://doi.org/10.3233/JND-190453

Weaver, P. A., Catalino, T., Townsend, E. L., Martin, K., & Dole, R. L. (2020). Assimilation of the pediatric essential core competencies by professional physical therapist education programs. Pediatric Physical Therapy : The Official Publication of the Section on Pediatrics of the American Physical Therapy Association, 32(3), 267–274. https://doi.org/10.1097/PEP.0000000000000715

Contact Information

Awards and Honors

CSM Outstanding Research Abstract Award, 2018

APTA Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy