Elissar Azzi

University of Helsinki


Elissar studied Biology for her BSc at Notre Dame University in Lebanon and during her undergrad grew particularly fond of the multiple effects of leptin, a major regulator of energy in the human body.

After completing her BSc, she undertook an MSc in cellular and molecular biology. During this time, both her parents were struck by cancer. Driven by the hope of  helping her parents, she focused on developing a clearer understanding of cancer. Her dedication led her to win 1st place in the “Novel Cancer Treatment” competition, an intra-faculty poster competition which required the submission of an original idea to tackle cancer. She submitted a poster presentation on “Genetically Modified Natural Killer Cells for the Inhibition of Metastatic Melanoma”, which was inspired by the role of natural killer cells in recurrent pregnancy loss.

Being able to derive a potential cancer treatment from a seemingly unrelated condition encouraged her to match her passion for the physiology of leptin with her eagerness to better understand cancer. Since leptin modulates cellular and organismal metabolism by employing JAK/STAT, a pathway that is also used by most cancer cells to grow, she set out to explore the possibility of halting cancer progression by employing soluble leptin receptor (sOb-R), a leptin-binding compound that inhibits the activation of JAK/STAT. However, due to logistics limitations this project could not be pursued. Therefore, she expanded her senior project in which she looked at the interplay between sOb-R and sleep restriction, another energy-altering state. Her research finding, which brought forward the overlooked effect of sleep on the expression of sOb-R, was peculiar enough to pique the attention of researchers at Harvard Medical School who invited Elissar and her supervisor to their research panels in order to further explore the significance of their findings.

Despite thoroughly enjoying her project, her ambition was and still is to find a way to ease the pain associated with cancer. She is privileged to join Dr. Verschuren’s lab, where the main focus is the assessment of STAT as a target candidate for tertiary cancer prevention. She believes that this is the ideal way to turn her theoretical knowledge into practical skills and apply these, together with her knowledge, to the development of a novel and efficient treatment.