Aschner Makes a Difference in Clinical, Research Worlds   

Judy Aschner, M.D., has been practicing medicine for almost 40 years, across clinical, research, and administrative roles at world-class institutions.

The pediatrician now brings her major federally-funded research projects to the CDI, to focus more than ever on the science of child health and wellbeing - and she is elated to do so.

“Now I have the opportunity to bring together and focus on two areas of research  I’ve been passionate about my entire career: how to broadly improve child health and the impact of environmental exposures, particularly in the earliest stages of life,” she said recently, from her CDI office. “I’ve always liked to build programs and bring teams together to create something larger than the sum of its parts - and this is what I plan to continue to do at the CDI.”

“Judy Aschner is a world-class physician and investigator, and we are privileged to host her important projects at the CDI,” said David Perlin, Ph.D., chief scientific officer and executive vice president of the CDI.

“Dr. Aschner is a valuable expert helping to push the envelope toward better understanding the factors of health for our youngest patients,” said Ihor Sawczuk, M.D., FACS, the president of Academics, Research and Innovation for Hackensack Meridian Health, the founding chair of the Hackensack Meridian Health Research Institute, and also associate dean of Clinical Integration and professor and chair emeritus of Urology at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine.

Many Roles

Aschner has been a leader at leading institutions over the course of her career, including Vanderbilt University, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, among others. Among the titles at these institutions: a nearly-10-year stint as the Julia Carell Stadler Professor (with Tenure), at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Director of Neonatology at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt; the Michael I. Cohen M.D. University Chair of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Physician-in-chief at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore.

More recently, Aschner relocated across the river to Hackensack Meridian Health in 2018, where she has served in roles including the Marvin I. Gottlieb, M.D., Ph.D. Chair of Pediatrics, at Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC); and the physician-in-chief roles for both the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at HUMC, and also that of Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health. She is also a professor of pediatrics at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine.

“I love what I have done at every stage,” she said. “I feel very fortunate to have landed on a career path that is so rewarding and has given back to me as much as I gave to it.”

She moved her research program and day-to-day work to the CDI in December 2023.

To the CDI

Research has always been an important aspect of her career; her relocation to the CDI in recent months opens up more time previously spent on administrative duties, to focus on her federally-funded investigations. Aschner has been continually funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1998.

“My research bridges bench to bedside investigations, from mechanistic studies of altered signaling in the neonatal pulmonary circulation in animal models to large multi-center studies involving recruitment and long-term follow up of preterm and term cohorts,” she states in her biosketch.

Her two major research areas have been focused on finding novel therapies to prevent and treat neonatal lung diseases, including bronchopulmonary dysplasia and neonatal pulmonary hypertension, and understanding and mitigating the impact of early life environmental exposures on long-term health outcomes for infants and children.

Her major current research focus is her role as principal investigator of a pregnancy cohort in the massive national Environmental Influences on Children Health Outcomes, or ECHO, project. A main goal of her ECHO work is to enrich this huge population-level study with high-risk pregnancies and children with developmental, physical and sensory disabilities, a group of children that have traditionally been excluded from many large research efforts. Aschner and colleagues in Hackensack are currently enrolling patients in the first half of pregnancy and plan to follow their children after birth until 2030.

“It’s a massive undertaking,” said Aschner recently. “With ECHO, a lot of the questions we will ultimately be able to answer haven’t even been defined yet… One area of intense interest for my cohort is understanding the factors that allow some children born very preterm or who have a range of disabilities to have better-than-expected outcomes.”

Another major project she brought to Hackensack Meridian Health is the HealthySteps program, a grant-funded, evidence-based, interdisciplinary pediatric primary care program that promotes positive parenting and healthy development for babies and toddlers under age four, with an emphasis on culturally diverse families living in low-income communities. 

From Upstate New York to Rock Climbing

Aschner was raised in Upstate New York, not far from Albany. From a young age she loved science, even though her parents did not even have college degrees. Her undergraduate degree in biology was from Union College in Schenectady, and her medical degree and pediatric residency and neonatology fellowship years were at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. Her career brought her from North Carolina, to Tennessee, back to New York - but this time the Big Apple.

Aschner has four children and six grandchildren, located from Colorado, to Brooklyn, to Toronto. Part of her new focus on research will leave some precious more hours to travel to see them more as they grow.

She’s developed a major hobby since arriving at Hackensack Meridian Health: she rock climbs three times a week. It’s exercise for her body and mind, and she said it is a passion.

“I think I’m stronger than I was in my 30s and 40s, and I don’t just mean physically” she said.

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