Newswise — JANUARY 28, 2020, Nutley, NJ – The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University is proud to announce a $100,000 program to support network physicians and researchers working to develop novel treatments for some of the most costly and challenging diseases and conditions including diabetes, depression and epilepsy. 

The newly launched Research Pilot Project Funding Program is supported by the school’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies, Hackensack Meridian Health’s Office of Research, and the Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation. 

The six projects selected will be seeded with more than $100,000 in total to help the scientists generate preliminary investigative results to prepare applications for competitive federal and foundation awards. 

“This is a program intended to jump-start promising research,” said Ihor Sawczuk, M.D., FACS, president of Hackensack Meridian Health’s Northern Market, and the chief research officer of the network. “With investment into new ideas, we expect to see big returns farther downstream.” 

“We are happy to be supporting the beginnings of these scientific projects which may soon make a difference in the lives of patients,” said Helen A. Cunning, president and chief development officer of the Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation. 

Four of the six projects will receive $20,000, with one receiving $19,500 and the sixth receiving approximately $9,000 to carry out the scope of their work. All are overseen by principal investigators who are faculty members of the medical school, and who have made the case that preliminary data could support a competitive extramural grant application within a year of this funding. 

“We are telling these researchers that we support their projects and vision,” said Stanley R. Terlecky, Ph.D., associate dean of Research and Graduate Students, and chair of Medical Sciences at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University. “Now we want them to collect their data, grow their research programs – and use the results as a springboard for even greater support. We hope to do this every year.”

The recipients are: Saba Afzal, M.D., in the Department of Psychiatry, to investigate saffron versus SSRI as an augmentation therapy for adults with mild to moderate depression; Michael Carson, M.D., Department of Medicine, for finding ways to improve detection of postpartum dysglycemia in women with gestational diabetes; Steven Ghanny, M.D., Department of Pediatrics, to employ a novel assay and genetic factors to study patients with steroid refractory acute graft-versus-host disease; Chinwe Ogedegbe, M.D., MPH, the section chief of Emergency and Trauma Center Research at Hackensack Meridian Health, to investigate a pilot program for smoking cessation in the Emergency Department; Linda Siracusa, Ph.D., Department of Medical Sciences, studying a new investigative model of adult-onset epilepsy; and Michelle Titunick, Ph.D., also in Medical Sciences at the school, investigating what effects vitamin D supplements have on fracture repair in Type 1 diabetes disease models. 

“These are terrific projects, and we are glad to give them a boost,” said Bonita Stanton, M.D., the founding dean of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University. “We always look to foster the abundant talent we have right here at the school and across the health network.”



The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University, the first private medical school in New Jersey in more than 50 years, welcomed its first class of students in 2018 to its On3 campus in Nutley and Clifton. The partnership between Hackensack Meridian Health and Seton Hall University was officially announced in 2015. In 2018, the two partners restructured the agreement so that Hackensack Meridian Health will assume complete financial responsibility for the School of Medicine beginning on July 1, 2018. Eventually, the school will be administered solely by Hackensack Meridian Health after a defined transition process. Until the transition is complete, Seton Hall will retain the academic responsibilities for operating the school, will be in charge of developing its innovative interdisciplinary curriculum, will facilitate financial aid, and will issue diplomas to medical students upon graduation.


Hackensack Meridian Health is a leading not-for-profit health care organization that is the largest, most comprehensive and truly integrated health care network in New Jersey, offering a complete range of medical services, innovative research and life-enhancing care.

Hackensack Meridian Health comprises 17 hospitals from Bergen to Ocean counties, which includes three academic medical centers – Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, JFK Medical Center in Edison; two children's hospitals - Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital in Hackensack, K. Hovnanian Children's Hospital in Neptune; nine community hospitals – Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel, Mountainside Medical Center in Montclair, Ocean Medical Center in Brick, Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, Pascack Valley Medical Center in Westwood, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy, Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, and Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin; a behavioral health hospital – Carrier Clinic in Belle Mead; and two rehabilitation hospitals - JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in Edison and Shore Rehabilitation Institute in Brick.

Additionally, the network has more than 500 patient care locations throughout the state which include ambulatory care centers, surgery centers, home health services, long-term care and assisted living communities, ambulance services, lifesaving air medical transportation, fitness and wellness centers, rehabilitation centers, urgent care centers and physician practice locations. Hackensack Meridian Health has more than 34,100 team members, and 6,500 physicians and is a distinguished leader in health care philanthropy, committed to the health and well-being of the communities it serves.

The network's notable distinctions include having four hospitals among the top 10 in New Jersey by U.S. News and World Report. Other honors include consistently achieving Magnet® recognition for nursing excellence from the American Nurses Credentialing Center and being named to Becker's Healthcare's "150 Top Places to Work in Healthcare/2019" list.

The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University, the first private medical school in New Jersey in more than 50 years, welcomed its first class of students in 2018 to its On3 campus in Nutley and Clifton. Additionally, the network partnered with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to find more cures for cancer faster while ensuring that patients have access to the highest quality, most individualized cancer care when and where they need it.

Hackensack Meridian Health is a member of AllSpire Health Partners, an interstate consortium of leading health systems, to focus on the sharing of best practices in clinical care and achieving efficiencies.

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One of the country's leading Catholic universities, Seton Hall University has been developing students in mind, heart and spirit since 1856. Home to nearly 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students and offering more than 90 rigorous academic programs, Seton Hall's academic excellence has been singled out for distinction by The Princeton Review, U.S. News & World Report and Bloomberg Business.

Seton Hall, which embraces students of all religions, prepares its graduates to be exemplary servant leaders and global citizens. In recent years, the University has achieved extraordinary success. Since 2009, the University has seen record-breaking undergraduate enrollment growth in addition to an impressive 95-point increase in the average SAT scores of incoming freshmen. In the past decade, Seton Hall students and alumni have been awarded nearly 20 Fulbright Scholarships as well as other prestigious academic honors including a Rhodes Scholar. In the past five years, the University has invested more than $134 million in new campus buildings and renovations. And in 2015, Seton Hall launched a new School of Medicine as well as a new College of Communication and the Arts.

A founding member of the new Big East Conference, the Seton Hall Pirates field 14 NCAA Division I varsity sports teams. The University's beautiful main campus is located in suburban South Orange, New Jersey, and is only 14 miles from New York City - offering its students a wealth of employment, internship, cultural and entertainment opportunities. The University's nationally recognized School of Law is prominently located in downtown Newark. For more information, visit