IICD Faculty Members Named 2023 Allen Distinguished Investigators

Lorenza Favrot and Camryn Hadley
November 21, 2023

Two IICD faculty members, 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 - and José L. McFaline-Figueroa - Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering -, are among the 18 new Allen Distinguished Investigators. Their proposed work is among seven research projects aimed to develop technologies, design approaches and uncover insights into fundamental areas of human biology. Each project will be awarded $1.5 million in research funding over three years from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

In collaboration with Mijo Simunovic (Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering), Azizi and McFaline-Figueroa will develop an in vitro platform that combines stem cell models of human development, high-throughput genome editing at the single cell level and novel machine learning approaches to precisely define how sex hormones participate in cellular differentiation during organ development.

"In this collaborative project, we are excited to deploy our machine learning tools in a new direction for unraveling the influence of sex hormones in embryonic development by integrating multimodal genomic data," Elham Azizi explains.

The Azizi 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.

"In this project, we will use single-cell genomics screens to help identify the genetic architecture underlying the role of sex hormones during morphogenesis. I am excited to join this collaborative team and its unique combination of cutting-edge models, technologies, and methods," José L. McFaline-Figueroa explains.

The McFaline-Figueroa lab is interested in defining the molecular changes that cells and tissues undergo in response to different therapies and how that landscape depends on genetic background. The goal is to leverage these atlases of cellular response to identify fundamental principles underlying diverse biological processes and arrive at strategies to treat human disease.

Read the full ADI press release: https://alleninstitute.org/news/the-paul-g-allen-family-foundation-awards-10-5-million-to-new-allen-distinguished-investigators

Read Columbia engineering article about the award: https://www.engineering.columbia.edu/news/three-engineering-faculty-win-paul-g-allen-family-foundation-award