Research Pilot Project Funding Program realizes excellent ea   

Research Pilot Project Funding Program realizes excellent early returns for investigators

The Hackensack Meridian Health Research Institute, in collaboration with the Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation and the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine (HMSOM) provided seed funds for 11 research pilot project awards totaling greater than $200,000, in 2020 and 2021. The grants were designed to focus on the generation of data for use in pursuing greater research initiatives - to jump-start projects with big potential.

The early results are in, and they are a combination of publications, further grant support from Hackensack Meridian Health and other major funders - and progress on work which may benefit untold patients of the future.

"This program was always intended to jump-start promising research," said Ihor Sawczuk, M.D., FACS, president of Academics, Research, and Innovation at HMH. "Looking at these early results, it did exactly that."

In close alignment with the research mission of the network’s care transformation services initiative and the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, this program provided one-time financial support for Principal Investigators to help generate the preliminary results/data necessary to prepare competitive applications for federal and other external national and international competitive research awards.

A review of the progress made by funding-recipients has revealed exciting results.

For example, Johannes Zakrzewski, M.D., associate member of the Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI) and a Pediatric Stem Cell Transplant Attending Physician at Hackensack University Medical Center, has used his award to generate results which he published recently in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. Importantly, two HMSOM medical students contributed to the work in the lab and co-authored a related paper in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. Dr. Zakrzewski has plans to incorporate these and other recently obtained results as part of a grant submission planned for later this year.

Erika Shor, Ph.D., assistant member of the CDI and assistant professor at the HMSOM, used the funding awarded to obtain mass spectroscopic data critical to her analysis of a fungal pathogen. This data was included in a grant submission to the NIH which resulted in an ($277,372) R21 award entitled “Elucidating mediators of genetic instability in Candida glabrata.”

The work of Steven Ghanny, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist at Hackensack University Medical Center was also supported by the Research Pilot Project Funding Program. Ghanny conducted a novel study examining steroid sensitivity in patients with acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). The results of this study will provide new insights into studying and predicting steroid sensitivity in patients with acute GVHD. This study was done with the assistance of an HMSOM medical student, resulting in an accepted abstract for a poster presentation at the International Society of Experimental Hematology 2023 Annual Conference in New York. The research team will be submitting another abstract to the forthcoming American Society of Hematology (ASH) 2023 annual meeting. The results of this study will also be submitted to a journal for publication. In addition, Dr. Ghanny will seek additional funding to extend these important observations.

Several other investigators reported generating results which will be included in manuscripts submitted for peer review.

“The program is paying dividends to faculty and student investigators – the hope is to be able to continue it into the future,” said Stanley R. Terlecky, Ph.D., vice dean, HMSOM.

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