HackensackUMC Researchers Drs. Sujatha Iyengar and David Schwartz Receive Innovator Award from the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame for Groundbreaking Work in Graft-Versus-Host Disease

November 21, 2016


Sujatha Iyengar, Ph.D., and David Schwartz, M.D., Ph.D., of the Alice and David Jurist Institute for Research at Hackensack University Medical Center, receive the Innovator Award at the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame (NJIHoF) dinner.

Hackensack University Medical Center, a member of Hackensack Meridian Health, is pleased to announce that two members of its Department of Research, Sujatha Iyengar, Ph.D., and David Schwartz, M.D., Ph.D., received the Innovator Award at the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame (NJIHoF) dinner on October 27. The awards took place at the W Hoboken Hotel, and honored the researchers, physicians and graduate students “… who seek to improve our lives through technology.”

Drs. Iyengar and Schwartz, of the Alice and David Jurist Institute for Research at Hackensack University Medical Center, were recognized for their groundbreaking work and early studies of a common medication that may be able to treat Graft-Versus-Host disease (GVHD) in patients who receive allogeneic transplantation (transplantation between non-identical donors and hosts). Each year, thousands of patients receive blood and marrow stem cell transplants (BMTs) for blood cancers. A major complication of these transplants can occur when a donor’s T cells (white cells that kill infected cells) view the host patient’s cells as a foreign pathogen, rather than “self,” and attack. Oftentimes, the patient’s skin and intestinal tract are the most susceptible to this GVHD disease. In fact, failure of the intestinal tract is the leading cause of death within the first 100 days after a transplant.

“We recognized the need to offer patients a medication that can protect their intestinal lining from T cell attacks, but still allow the T cells to kill any remaining cancer cells,” said Dr. Schwartz. “Telmisartan is an FDA-approved, easily-accessible drug that has safely treated hypertension for years with minimal side effects. We are hopeful that its properties will reduce GVHD in BMT patients.”

“This is a promising study that may offer a safer alternative to fighting GVHD,” said Dr. Iyengar. “Removing all the mature donor T cells from the BMT graft prior to transfer prevents GVHD, but unfortunately, it also results in unacceptably high rates of cancer recurrence. So mature T cells are included in the graft, and any GVHD is treated with high-dose steroids and even stronger immunosuppressive drugs. This leaves the patient susceptible to infections. Telmisartan may be a solution to this dilemma.”

With their colleagues on the hematopoietic stem cell transplant team, they are now conducting clinical trials at the John Theurer Cancer Center at HackensackUMC. They have recently opened recruitment at Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, a clinical affiliation of HackensackUMC. The study is being funded, in part, by the Gateway Foundation for Cancer Research.

“Congratulations to both Dr. Sujatha Iyengar and Dr. David Schwartz for being honored,” said Andrew Pecora, M.D., president of Physician Services and chief innovation officer at Hackensack Meridian Health. “Across Hackensack Meridian Health, our team is committed to discovering and researching the treatment methods of tomorrow. Our cancer services remain at the forefront of medicine, and the John Theurer Cancer Center provides our patients with more treatment options through the work of our dedicated Research Department.”

Drs. Iyengar and Schwartz were nominated for the Innovator Award by Anthony delCampo, vice president of the Office of Commercialization and Technology Ventures at HackensackUMC. He notes, “The innovative work that Drs. Iyengar and Schwartz are doing could have a profound benefit for future BMT patients – reducing their risk of GVHD in a cost-effective way.”

The NJIHoF, established in 1987, is led by a Board of Trustees and committees to promote the role of invention in the state’s development, and the role of inventors in improving society and changing lives. Since its inception, the NJIHoF has awarded more than 470 individuals and corporations. To qualify for an award, an inventor must have lived in the state during the period of his or her inventive project, or worked for a company in the state that sponsored the work.  Candidates are ranked on several measures, the most important of which is how well the invention or its patent can be commercialized or used, as well as the significance of its impact on society.

Drs. Iyengar and Schwartz joined HackensackUMC in 2008 to focus their research on cancer and autoimmunity. They are both highly-accomplished researchers who are dedicated to finding cures for tomorrow. For more information, visit: www.hackensackumc.org/our-services/specialized-centers/the-david-and-alice-jurist-institute-for-research/chairmans-welcome-message/.

Sujatha Iyengar, Ph.D., and David Schwartz, M.D., Ph.D., of the Alice and David Jurist Institute for Research at Hackensack University Medical Center, receive the Innovator Award at the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame (NJIHoF) dinner on October 27 at the W Hoboken.

About Hackensack University Medical Center
HackensackUMC, a 775-bed nonprofit teaching and research hospital located in Bergen County, NJ, is the largest provider of inpatient and outpatient services in the state. Founded in 1888 as the county’s first hospital, it is a member of Hackensack Meridian Health, one of the largest networks in the state comprised of 28,000 team members and more than 6,000 physicians. HackensackUMC was listed as the number one hospital in New Jersey in U.S. News & World Report’s2016-17 Best Hospital rankings – maintaining its place atop the NJ rankings since the rating system was introduced. It was also named one of the top four New York Metro Area hospitals. HackensackUMC is one of only five major academic medical centers in the nation to receive Healthgrades America’s 50 Best Hospitals Award for five or more years in a row. The medical center is one of the top 25 green hospitals in the country according to Practice Greenhealth, and received 25 Gold Seals of Approval™ by The Joint Commission – more than any other hospital in the country. It was the first hospital in New Jersey and second in the nation to become a Magnet® recognized hospital for nursing excellence; receiving its fifth consecutive designation in 2014. HackensackUMC has created an entire campus of award-winning care, including: the John Theurer Cancer Center; the Heart & Vascular Hospital; and the Sarkis and Siran Gabrellian Women’s and Children’s Pavilion, which houses the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital and Donna A. Sanzari Women’s Hospital, which was designed with The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center and listed on the Green Guide’s list of Top 10 Green Hospitals in the U.S. HackensackUMC is the Hometown Hospital of the New York Giants and the New York Red Bulls and is Official Medical Services Provider to The Barclays PGA Golf Tournament. It remains committed to its community through fundraising and community events. To learn more, visit www.HackensackUMC.org.