NJMS Clinical Research Center - Meet Our Team

Meet Our Team


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Shobha Swaminathan, MD, Principal Investigator, Clinical Research Site Leader, Medical Director

Dr. Swaminathan is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. She is the Clinical Research Site Leader for the NIH funded Clinical Trials Unit AT Rutgers, NJMS. She is also the Medical Director of the Infectious Diseases Practice at University Hospital, Newark, NJ and is the Principal investigator of many Ryan White Grants to provide HIV care and treatment. In addition, she is also the Principal Investigator of the New Jersey Department of Health funded HIV testing and Navigator Programs. She completed her medical residency and was the Chief Resident at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. She completed her fellowship in Infectious Diseases at the combined program of Montefiore Medical Center/ Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY. Her initial research projects included studying the utility of two-step tuberculin skin testing in drug users and outcome of antiretroviral therapy in protease inhibitor containing regimens. Her areas of interest include HIV and coinfection with hepatitis viruses. She is currently actively involved in many clinical trials for HIV-infected person and is the lead investigator in many HIV prevention studies at the institution. She loves to spend her free time with her kids, reading to them and playing trivia games with them.

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Debra Chew, MD, Investigator

Dr. Chew graduated from Brown University in 1984, and earned her medical degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in 1989. She completed her Internal Medicine residency at Beth Israel Medical Center, New York, in 1992, and her Infectious Diseases fellowship at Albert Einstein/Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York in 1995. Dr. Chew was selected for the position of Epidemic Intelligence Service officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and served from 1995-1997. She served as a medical specialist for the New York City Department of Health from 1997-1999. Dr. Chew joined UMDNJ University Hospital in 1999 as one of the attending Infectious Disease physicians in the Infectious Disease Clinic, and is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. Her primary research interests are in HIV/AIDS and Human Papillomaviruses. She is a principal investigator and co-investigator in major ongoing HIV clinical treatment and prevention trials and studies.

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Michelle DallaPiazza, MD, Investigator

Dr. DallaPiazza is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and completed a residency in Internal Medicine Primary Care at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed her Infectious Diseases training at New York University with a focus on HIV primary care and medical education. At Rutgers NJMS, she continues to have a strong clinical interest in both HIV primary care and viral hepatitis. Her research activities are concentrated on continuous quality improvement and patient education in the care of HIV positive patients. She recently started a clinic to provide gender affirming hormone replacement therapy. She is also involved in developing undergraduate educational enhancements in the area of cultural competency and health care disparities at the Medical School.

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Amesika Nyaku, MD, Investigator

Dr. Amesika Nyaku is an accomplished graduate of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. There, she completed her Internal Medicine residency and Infectious Diseases fellowship. She strongly cares for people living with HIV/AIDS and people with general infectious diseases as shown by her thorough work and intentional outreach. Her research interest is in reducing HIV-related health and healthcare disparities, especially for racial and ethnic minorities. Dr. Nyaku is an investigator in the New Jersey Medical School Clinical Research Center who, when off the clock, enjoys art and going out to eat.

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Dr. Stoler – Alexander Stoler, MD, Investigator

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Mario – Mario Portilla, RN, Research Nurse Clinician

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Susana Rivera, BSN, RN, Research Nurse Clinician

Susana Rivera received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in the Philippines. Prior to becoming a certified research nurse at Rutgers University, she was a certified Neonatal ICU nurse for 15 years at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel. An avid traveller, she later flew to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where she served as Lead Research Nurse. Though she visited countries as far away as UAE, she returned to Newark to play an essential role in the HPTN and ACTG studies. She loves her sisters and her dog, Princess.

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Christina Halma, MSN, RN, Research Nurse Clinician

Christina completed her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at The University of Scranton in PA. While working as an emergency room nurse at Newark Beth Israel, she started her Master’s in Nursing in Clinical Trials Research at Drexel University. At the time she was pursuing her masters, she worked as a labor and delivery nurse at Monmouth Medical Center. During this time, she always knew she wanted to work in Newark again. After completing her master’s in March 2017, she joined our HPTN team at Rutgers NJ Medical School clinical research center as a research nurse clinician. In her free Christina enjoys spending time with friends and family and traveling as much as possible.

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Gregory - Gregory Eilinger, PharmD, Investigational Pharmacist

Greg is the Research Pharmacist for the DAIDS Clinical Trial Team. Since graduating from The Rutgers School of Pharmacy, he serves as a pharmacist at the University Hospital and joined the ID research studies in 2015. His job is to make sure everyone gets the right active or placebo medications. Outside of work, he is an avid New England Patriots fan, enjoys reading, watching movies, and traveling.

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Baljinder Singh, MA, MS, Research Program Manager

Bali Singh is the Research Program Manager and Clinical Research Unit coordinator for the Clinical Research Center at the New Jersey Medical School and in this role has responsibility for all studies conducted at this site. She holds a MA majoring in Nutrition and a MS majoring in Health Sciences. She is a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator. She has an extensive background in research having worked on many landmark studies such as The Multiple Risk Factor Interventional Trial at the Institute of Medical Sciences in San Francisco and the Women’s Health Initiative at NJMS. An avid world traveler, she never fails to bring back trinkets for her team from the various unique places she visits. She also spoils everyone with homemade goodies.

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Christie Lyn Costanza, Community Engagement Manager

This is Christie Lyn Costanza, but most people call her CL. She graduated from Villanova University with a BA in psychology and took her first public health job at Planned Parenthood’s Center for Family Life Education in Plainfield, NJ as an Outreach Educator. She then started with the NJMS Clinical Research Center as a student assistant and gradually grew into Data Manager and then Research Coordinator. After completing her MPH in Health Education and Behavioral Science in 2013 she became the Community Engagement Manager for the HPTN studies. She is currently pursuing a BSN here at Rutgers, School of Nursing. She is involved in all aspects of the research team: planning and implementing recruitment activities, cultivating and maintaining community partnerships, training staff and monitoring data quality for the research program. CL’s absolute favorite thing to do in her free time is dance, write, and spend time with family.

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Valerie Cadorett, Data Manager

Valerie Cadorett is the data manager for the AIDS Clinical Trial Group studies. She graduated from William Paterson University with a Bachelor of Science in public health and a Bachelor of Arts in earth science with a minor in English writing. She is the recipient of the Dean’s Award, which is awarded to the undergraduate student with the highest GPA in College of Science and Health. She has over two years of experience working as a public health research assistant at William Paterson University and United for Prevention in Passaic County. To date, she has contributed to eleven peer-reviewed journal publications, three of which she is the lead researcher on. She has conducted research on a variety of health topics, predominantly focusing on health information presented in mass media. Her research included, anal cancer and YouTube videos, health articles and advertisements in parenting magazines, parenting blogs discussing immunizations, and if popular baking shows follow the FDA Food Code. She also assisted in the data collect, data entry, and manuscript development for the largest distracted walking study in New York City. Valerie enjoys hiking, jamming out at concerts, and planking with her coworkers.

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Arielle Gronberg, Data Manager

Arielle grew up climbing trees and drinking out of the backyard water hose. Her BA in Communications from Gordon College led to a range of professional experiences revolving around one ultimate vision: quality care. She modelled and promoted for national clients such as General Motors, Moet Hennessy and Core Power. After setting company sales records in both Orlando and NYC she moved to Newark, NJ with a mission to make a positive difference in the community. Now she works on HIV prevention studies as Public Health Representative for the Department of Medicine in Rutgers NJMS. She and her boyfriend began dating in Honduras; he volunteers at the IDP clinic while working on his MD, PHD. Together, they speak broken Spanish and scale the most difficult walls in the rock climbing gym nearby. Behind her freckled face lies a passion for people, purpose, and fried plantains.

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Carolyna Torres, Administrative Coordinator

In 2003 Carolyna Torres began working at Rutgers University. Six years later she became the official Administrative Coordinator, overseeing all administrative functions. She’s the payroll liaison aka tape and glue that supports three departments. With her meticulous detail and steady organization, she answers all questions thrown her way. Carolyna is notorious for wearing various hats and sipping a hot cup of coffee. Or two. Or three.

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Rondalya DeShields, MSN, RN, HPTN Study Coordinator

Ms. Deshields serves as a primary Study Coordinator for the HPTN Research team. Having completed both her undergrad and Masters degrees at Rutgers, her unique perspective of the University serves as an asset to the Department of Medicine. Under her leadership, the Infectious Disease Practice and HPTN studies exceed expectations. Quick to laugh and share homemade foods, her ambition, empathy and sense of humor encourage everyone to go above and beyond.

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Jennifer Punsal, Regulatory Coordinator

Jennifer Punsal is the Regulatory Coordinator for the New Jersey Medical School Clinical Research Center. She oversees all regulatory activities for the NJMS-CRC. Jennifer started her career in research as an Undergraduate Research Assistant for the Rutgers Social Development Program while attending Rutgers University – Newark. After graduating with her Bachelor of Arts in psychology, she worked in residential programs that provided services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Before joining the NJMS-CRC team, Jennifer worked for the Institutional Review Board at Rutgers University – Biomedical and Health Sciences, where she assisted in the approving, monitoring, and reviewing of biomedical and behavioral research for the Rutgers research community. Outside the office you’ll most likely find her suspended on a rock cliff or engaging in other feats of strength and fitness.

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Shazia Chatha, Research Coordinator

Shazia Chatha was a Physician Advisor for ten years before moving to Memphis. She spent She worked for an Endocrinologist for two years where she developed an interest in Research. After spending two years studying in the UK, she left Cambridge and moved to Newark NJ to join Rutgers NJMS as Research Coordinator in the Department of Medicine. Shazia is an avid shopper and enjoys a good movie. She re-energizes with planks, a bottle of Diet Coke and a bag of Doritos.

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Sheryl Cousart, Research Coordinator

Sheryl, our Research Coordinator, graduated with a BA in Natural Science and Mathematics from Felician College. She worked at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital for eight years in the Medical Oncology Unit before transitioning over to NJMS. With the goal of becoming a nurse practitioner in mind, she plans on attending Thomas Jefferson University. After obtaining her BSN at College of Nursing she will focus on pediatrics. Today, she lives in SoHo with her darling French boyfriend and enjoys reading Thrillers, traveling and eating. Her favorite animals are elephants, pandas and all breeds of dog.

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Marta Paez-Quinde, Research Coordinator

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Jeanne Prevost-Fernandez, Research Coordinator

Medical Assistant, Jeanne Prevost- Fernandez, has a strong healthcare background. She was a cardiac Research Assistant for 10 years before switching tracks to IRB regulatory requirements and guidance. Jeanne, missing the patient care environment, later returned to the research field and has been there ever since. When she’s not on the medical floor you can find her planning events, timing the Research team’s plank challenges, and making candy.

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Travis Love, Community Engagement Specialist

Travis Love is an activist and performance artist who uses his talents to teach and inspire his community. After graduating from Montclair State University, Travis appeared on the off-off Broadway production of “7 Degrees of Separation”, toured regionally with the George Street Playhouse and nationally with Educational Tours Inc. His most recent credits include artistic director for “Nina In Motion”, director of “Before It Hits Home” and “The Vagina Monologues”. Travis will be honored this year for his work in the community by Princess Inc. after being acknowledged by the Martin Luther King Community Commission. He will also hold the honor of being Stockton’s Activist in Residence for the 2017 academic year. He began working as Public Health Representative in 2016 at Rutgers NJMS. While much of his career centers on HIV prevention, he continues to utilize his theatrical and creative roots to evoke positive change in his surrounding community.

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Jamir Tuten, Community Engagement Specialist

Jamir is one of our Community Engagement Specialists here at the NJMS CRC. As a Richard Stockton University student, Jamir's inquisitive nature and tenacious ways led him to the field of communications and writing; writing an article for the Stockton Times campus newspaper as well as creating an organization based around fashion and creative arts. Jamir went on to graduate with a Bachelors in Communications while soon after making Newark, NJ his new home. Over the next several years, he worked as a Ryan White Substance Abuse Counselor and was then promoted to the AIDS Services Supervisor. Based on his interaction with the surrounding communities and his passion for the LGBTQ community, Jamir hopes to continue to make a great contribution to the world of research.

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Eric Ascencio, Research Associate

Eric Ascencio is a Research Associate III for Rutgers NJMS and has been with us since December 2016. He comes from an extensive background that includes working with the HIV positive community and several years of experience in various hospital laboratories. Eric received his Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health at William Paterson University of New Jersey and is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Health degree at Rutgers School of Public Health. His hobbies include chasing his son around, playing PS4, and studying.

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Jared Khan, Research Associate

Jared has a Bachelor of Science in Public Health from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing his Masters of Public Health at NYU. He has 4 years experience conducting sexual risk reduction groups and 3 years conducting one-on-one sexual risk reduction interventions with those infected and affected with HIV. He also has 1 year experience working with incarcerated persons with HIV. Jared primarily enjoys outreach work and health fairs involving HIV/STD/STI prevention. Jared joined the research team in 2017 as a research associate and will be assisting in conducting intakes as well as monitoring participant progress and compliance with study visits. Jared enjoys video games with friends and trying new restaurants.