Elham Azizi Receives a CZI Science Diversity Leadership Award

Oct 19 2022 | By Lorenza Favrot and Harry Kelso

Elham Azizi - Herbert and Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Cancer Data Research (in the Herbert and Florence Institute for Cancer Dynamics and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center) and Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering - has received a Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) Science Diversity Leadership award for her project titled “Computational Modeling of Regulatory Mechanisms in the Spatial Breast Tumor Microenvironment Purpose.” Launched earlier this year in collaboration with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), the Science Diversity Leadership award recognizes outstanding early- to mid-career researchers in the biomedical sciences who foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in their scientific fields through their outreach, mentoring, teaching and leadership efforts.

The $1.15 million grant will support the Azizi lab for five years to develop novel machine-learning tools to dissect underlying dysregulated mechanisms in the triple-negative breast tumor microenvironment through integrating spatial multi-omics data. Elham Azizi’s lab integrates novel machine-learning techniques and cutting-edge genomic and imaging technologies to characterize the complex populations of interacting cell types in the tumor microenvironment and their underlying circuitry to guide improved and personalized cancer therapies.

“The Science Diversity Leadership program is unique in that it provides generous funding for both research and outreach activities, enabling us to make advances on both fronts,” Elham Azizi explains. “The project aims to study gene circuitry underlying dysfunctional immune cells interacting with breast tumor cells in patient specimens. Toward this goal, our group will develop machine-learning techniques for integrating different types of spatially resolved genomic data, including transcriptional, proteomic, and epigenetic data. Our efforts will also include establishing workshops, courses, and internship opportunities for underrepresented high school and undergraduate students and engaging them in impactful research.”

However, Azizi sees the broader importance of diversity in science across the globe, especially regarding the ongoing protests in Iran, where she grew up and went to college. “In fostering diversity in our scientific community, it is important to recognize historical and ongoing inequities and how gender, cultural and ethnic identity impacts educational success from early stages of education,” says Azizi with regard to the mission of this award. “My personal experience with discrimination against women in Iran has shaped my philosophy in building a broadly inclusive program. I stand with the ongoing women-led uprising in Iran with the beautiful slogan of Women-Life-Freedom ignited by Mahsa Amini's death, though hers certainly not an isolated case and rather an embodiment of decades of systematic oppression of women. I was one of the fortunate ones who managed to immigrate and find extremely supportive mentors who lifted me at critical moments. This movement has unfortunately been confronted with brutal violence including attacks on university campuses such as my alma mater, Sharif University. I ask the scientific community to be the voice of students and women courageously fighting for freedom, and to not leave them in the darkness of internet shutdown.”

Azizi added, “I believe creative, collaborative and multidisciplinary scientific research demands talents from diverse backgrounds. I cannot imagine the scientific advances and innovative solutions we would achieve if the protesting and perishing high-schoolers and college students had the same opportunities I had.”

Read the CZI announcement here: https://chanzuckerberg.com/science/programs-resources/science-diversity-leadership-awards/


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