Diana Azzam

Diana Azzam

Assistant Professor, Environmental Health Sciences

Scientific Director, Center for Advancing Personalized Cancer Treatments (CAPCT)

Email: dazzam@fiu.edu


Functional Precision Medicine, Cancer Stem Cells, Therapy Resistance and Metastasis


Diana Azzam, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at Florida International University. She has a Masters in Biochemistry from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon and a PhD in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology from the University of Miami, Florida. Her lab focuses on implementing functional precision medicine (FPM) approaches in adult and pediatric cancer patients that have run out of treatment options.

Working with local hospitals including Nicklaus Children's Hospital and Cleveland Clinic Florida, her lab delivers individualized treatment plans based on a patient’s cancer genomic profile and ex vivo drug response. She is currently engaged in two clinical studies to assess feasibility and clinical utility of FPM in relapsed/refractory patients with childhood cancer (ClinicalTrials.gov registration: NCT05857969) and adult cancer (ClinicalTrials.gov registration: NCT06024603).

Dr. Azzam is working on setting up the first CLIA-certified lab in the State of Florida dedicated for functional cancer drug testing. Her goal is to launch large-scale prospective multi-center randomized clinical trials to better assess efficacy of FPM approaches in the treatment of refractory/relapsed cancers. In parallel, she is working on utilizing FPM as a tool to reduce health disparities in childhood cancer patients from minority populations. She is also integrating a novel machine learning approach to identify specific biomarkers among minority populations that can be targeted using FDA-approved drugs. Her lab also investigates cancer stem cells and how they may result from chronic environmental exposures to toxic metals such as arsenic.

In the News

The Conversation: Arsenic contamination of food and water is a global public health concern – researchers are studying how it causes cancer

Piece written by Diana Azzam, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at FIU and Cristina Andrade-Feraud, Ph.D. candidate in environmental health sciences at FIU.

FIU News: FIU awarded more than $77M in new state funding

The advocacy of former state Senator Anitere Flores and current state Representative Bryan Avila, chair of House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, helped Dr. Diana Azzam and her team receive $2 million in state appropriations. These funds will be used to acquire state-of-the-art robotic instrumentation that will greatly increase the speed and efficiency with which Azzam and her team identify personalized treatment options, allowing more patients to be helped every day.

FIU News: Neuroinflammation protein linked to worse survival in men with glioblastoma

Scientists have discovered a new link that could bring the scientific and medical community closer to understanding why glioblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor, is deadlier in males. Lis
ten on The Academic Minute.

FIU News: Collaborative brain cancer research contributes to hopes for new treatments, cure

An FIU-led study has revealed a correlation between the presence of a protein variant and poor survival in males suffering from the deadliest form of brain cancer.

FIU News: FIU and Cleveland Clinic Florida to collaborate on personalized cancer treatment research

Diana Azzam, a researcher in the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, will collaborate with Cleveland Clinic Florida on a study to find new treatment options for cancer patients.


The Azzam Lab tackles advanced cancers through the usage of functional precision medicine in cancer treatment as well as a multifaceted study of cancer stem cells, the cells responsible for cancer relapse and metastasis.

Projects in the lab include the implementation of functional precision medicine to identify individualized treatment options for advanced pediatric and adult cancers, examination of the impact of environmental toxins on cancer stem cell formation, and role of neuroinflammatory protein TSPO in glioblastoma stem cells


  • PhD, 2007-2012, University of Miami, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
  • MS, 2003-2006, American University of Beirut, Lebanon. (Biochemistry)
  • BS, 2000-2003, Lebanese University, Lebanon. (Chemistry)


For complete list of published work: https://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&user=v42J5dMAAAAJ&view_op=list_works&sortby=pubdate

Selected List of Publications:

  1. Acanda De La Rocha, A., Berlow, N., Fader, M., Coats, E., Saghira, C., Espinal, P., Galano, J., Khatib, Z., Abdella, H., Maher O., Vorontsova Y., Andrade-Feraud, C., Daccache A., Jacome A., Reis V., Holcomb B., Ghurani Y., Rimblas L., Guilarte, TR., Salyakina, D., and Azzam, DJ. “Feasibility of Functional Precision Medicine for guiding treatment of Relapsed/Refractory Pediatric Cancers,” Nat Med (2024) In press

  2. Kurani H, Razavipour SF, Harikumar KB, Dunworth M, Ewald AJ, Nasir A, Pearson G, Van Booven D, Zhou Z, Azzam D, Wahlestedt C, Slingerland J. DOT1L Is a Novel Cancer Stem Cell Target for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. Clin Cancer Res. (2022) May 2;28(9):1948-1965. PMID: 35135840.

  3. Guilarte, TR, Rodichkin, AN, McGlothan, JL, Acanda De La Rocha, AM, and Azzam, DJ. Imaging     neuroinflammation with TSPO: A new perspective on the cellular sources and subcellular localization. Pharmacol Ther. (2021) Nov 27:108048, PMID: 34848203.

  4. Acanda De La Rocha, A., Fader, M., Berrios, V., Saghira, C., Soto, I., Janvier, M., Khatib, Z., Abdela, H., Shakya, R., Zoghbi, A., Andrade-Feraud, C., Guilarte, TR., Salyakina, D., and Azzam, DJ. Clinical Utility of Functional Precision Medicine in the Management of Recurrent Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma. JCO Precis Oncol. (2021) Oct 27; 5. PMID: 34738048.

  5. Troike, K, Acanda De La Rocha, A, Alban, T, Grabowski, M, Otvos, B, Cioffi, G, Waite, K, Barnholtz -Sloan, J, Lathia, J*, Guilarte, TR*, and Azzam, DJ. * The Translocator Protein (TSPO) Genetic Polymorphism A147T is Associated with Worse Survival in Male Glioblastoma Patients. Cancers (Basel) (2021) Sep 8;13(18):4525, PMID: 34572751.

  6. Blevins LK, Crawford RB, Azzam DJ.*, Guilarte TR, Kaminski NE. Surface translocator protein 18 kDa (TSPO) localization on immune cells upon stimulation with LPS and in ART-treated HIV+ subjects. J Leukoc Biol. Nov 17 (2020)

  7. Loth M., Guariglia S., Re D., Perez J., Nunez De Paiva V., Dziedzic J., Chambers J., Azzam DJ and Guilarte TR. A Novel Interaction of Translocator Protein 18 kDa (TSPO) with NADPH Oxidase in Microglia. Mol Neurobiol. Nov;57(11):4467-4487 (2020)

  8. Lohse I.*, Azzam DJ.*, Al-Ali H., Volmar CH., Brothers SP., Ince TA., Wahlestedt C. Ovarian Cancer Treatment Stratification Using Ex Vivo Drug Sensitivity Testing. Anticancer Res. Aug;39(8):4023-4030 (2019) *Co-first authors; equal contributions to paper

  9. Simpkins F., Jang K., Yoon H., Hew K., Kim M., Azzam DJ., Sun J., Zhao D., Ince T., Lui W., Guo W., Wei Z., Zhang., Mills G., Slingerland JM. Dual Src and MEK inhibition decreases ovarian cancer growth and targets tumor initiating stem-like cells. Cli Can Res. Oct 1;24(19):4874-4886 (2018).

  10. Swords R.*, Azzam D.*, Al-Ali H.*, Ines L.*, Volmar CH., Watts J., Perez A., Rodriguez A., Vargas F., Elias R., Zelent A., Abassi T., Rangwala S., Deutsch Y., Drusbosky L., Cogle C., and Wahlestedt C. Ex-vivo Sensitivity Profiling to Guide Clinical Decision Making in Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Leuk Res. Nov 11;64:34-41 (2017). *Co-first authors; equal contributions to paper

  11. Ariazi E., Taylor J., Black M., Nicolas E., Slifker M., Azzam D. and Boyd J. A New Role for ERα: Silencing via DNA methylation of Basal, Stem Cell, and EMT Genes. Mol Cancer Res. 15(2):152-164 (2017).

  12. Witt A., Lee C., Lee T., Azzam DJ., Grosso J., Cohick E., Wang B., Gropper A., Merritt M., Petrocca F., Richardson A., Young R., Wahlestedt C. and Ince TA., Identification of a Cancer Stem Cell-Specific Function for the Histone Deacetylases in Breast and Ovarian Cancer. Oncogene, Mar 23;36(12):1707-1720 (2017).

  13. Picon-Ruiz M., Pan C., Drews-Elger K., Jang K., Besser AH., Zhao D., Morata-Tarifa C., Kim M., Ince TA., Azzam DJ., Wander SA., Wang B., Ergonul B., Datar RH., Cote RJ., Howard GA., El-Ashry D., Torné-Poyatos P., Marchal JA., Slingerland JM., Interactions between Adipocytes and Breast Cancer Cells Stimulate Cytokine Production and Drive Src/Sox2/miR-302b-Mediated Malignant Progression. Cancer Res, 76 (2):491-504 (2016).

  14. Zhao D., Pan C., Sun J., Gilbert C., Drews-Elger K., Azzam DJ., Picon-Ruiz M., Kim M.,Ullmer W., El-Ashry D., Creighton CJ. and Slingerland JM. VEGF drives cancer-initiating stem cells through VEGFR-2/Stat3 signaling to upregulate Myc and Sox2. Oncogene, 11;34(24):3107-19 (2015).

  15. Azzam DJ., Volmar CH., Al-Ali H., Perez A., Watts J., Vargas F., Elias R., Rodriguez A., Zelent A., Cogle C., Swords R. and Wahlestedt C. A Patient-Specific Ex Vivo Screening Platform for Personalized Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Therapy. Blood, 126 (23): 1352 (2015).

  16. Boelens M, Wu T, Nabet B, Xu B, Qui Y, Yoon T, Azzam DJ, Twyman-Saint Victor C, Wiemann B, Ishwaran H, Brugge P, Jonkers J, Slingerland J and Minn A. Exosome Transfer from Stromal to Breast Cancer Cells Regulates Therapy Resistance Pathways. Cell, 159 (3), 499-513 (2014).

  17. Elger KD, Brinkman J, Miiler P, Shah S, Harrell J, Da Silva T, Ao Z, Schlater A, Azzam D, Diehl K, Thomas D, Slingerland JM, Perou C, Lippmann M, El-Ashry D. Primary breast tumor-derived cellular models: characterization of tumorigenic, metastatic, and cancer-associated fibroblasts in dissociated tumor (DT) cultures. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 144 (3):503-17 (2014).

  18. Azzam, D. J., Zhao, D., Sun, J., Minn, A. J., Ranganathan, P., Drews-Elger, K., Han, X., Picon-Ruiz, M., Gilbert, C. A., Wander, S. A., Capobianco, A. J., El-Ashry, D. and Slingerland, J. Triple negative breast cancer initiating cell subsets differ in functional and molecular characteristics and in γ-secretase inhibitor drug responses. EMBO Mol Med. 5: 1502–1522 (2013).

  19. Simpkins F, Paez P, Sun J, Ullmer W, Gilbert C, Da Silva T, Pedram A, Levin E, Reis I, Rabinovich B, Azzam D, Xu X, Ince TA, Yang J, Verhak R, Lu Y, Mills G, Slingerland JM. Src inhibition with Saracatinib reverses fulvestrant resistance in ER-positive ovarian cancer models in vitro and in vivo, Clin Cancer Res. 1;18(21):5911-23 (2012).

  20. Chen Y, Alvarez EA, Azzam D, Wander, SA, Guggisberg N, Jorda M, Ju Z, Hennessy BT, Slingerland JM. Combined Src and ER blockade impairs human breast cancer proliferation in vitro and in vivo without increasing tumor-initiating cells. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 128(1):69-78 (2011).

  21. Azzam DJ, Usta JA, Mouneinme Y, El Hokayem JA, Mikati MA. High-performance liquid chromatographic method for quantifying sphingomyelin in rat brain. J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci, 1; 859(1):131-6 (2007).