Dr. Diana Azzam earned her PhD in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology from the University of Miami in 2012. Her research has focused on the identification, functional characterization and targeting of therapy resistant and metastatic cancer stem cells in the most lethal forms of breast and ovarian cancers. Based on her work and publications, she received the 2014 Women in Cancer Research scholar award from the American Association for Cancer Research. During her postdoctoral training at the Center for Therapeutic Innovation, Dr. Azzam implemented a patient-specific ex vivo high-throughput drug screening platform for personalized cancer therapy. This novel iterative functional/genomics approach was a multidisciplinary collaborative project with oncologists that enabled clinical application of individualized treatments for refractory patients with no alternative options. Significantly higher response rates were observed in patients whose treatment was based on drug screening and mutation profiling compared to non-guided therapy. In addition, Dr. Azzam optimized a high-throughput screening approach to identify novel drugs that target therapy-resistant cancer stem cell subsets in a tumor. Her research efforts led to the identification of new cancer stem-cell specific functions of histone methyltransferases (HMT) and histone deacetylases (HDAC) in breast and ovarian cancer.
Dr. Azzam joined the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Florida International University in April 2018. She is a grant recipient of the Florida Department of Health first-ever Live Like Bella Pediatric Cancer Research Initiative (http://www.floridahealth.gov/newsroom/2018/03/030818-live-like-bella-2018.html) that funds an ongoing multi-center clinical trial, in collaboration with Nicklaus Children’s hospital, on individualized treatments in children with advanced cancers. The study enrolls children with relapsed and/or refractory leukemias and solid tumors to implement ex vivo drug sensitivity in combination with genomic profiling to guide clinical decision making and provide novel therapeutic options for children (https://news.fiu.edu/2020/a-lifesaving-option-for-pediatric-cancer-patients).
In addition, she received a $400,000 grant from the Cornelia T. Bailey Foundation, in collaboration with Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, for an observational study that takes biopsies of individual children’s tumor tissues and tests standard of care drugs. Azzam will assess predictive value of functional precision medicine approach in newly diagnosed childhood sarcomas (Stempel professor to assess predictive value of personalized medicine approach to childhood sarcomas – Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work).
She has also initiated the first study that FIU has conducted with Cleveland Clinic Florida on adult patients with advanced sarcomas. The research, funded by a $350,000 grant from the Scott R. MacKenzie Foundation, focuses on the clinical utility of drug sensitivity testing and genomic profiling to treat sarcomas, one of the most common types of aggressive, malignant tumors (https://communitynewspapers.com/florida-international-university/fiu-and-cleveland-clinic-florida-to-collaborate-on-personalized-cancer-treatment-research).
Cancer Stem Cells; Therapy Resistance and Metastasis; Individualized Cancer Treatments and Functional Ex Vivo Drug Testing