Azra Raza

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Azra Raza
Karachi, Pakistan
Academic background
EducationDow Medical College,
Roswell Park Cancer Institute
Academic work
DisciplineCancer research
Sub-disciplinemyelodysplastic syndrome
acute myeloid leukemia
InstitutionsRoswell Park Cancer Institute,
University of Cincinnati,
Rush University,
University of Massachusetts,
Columbia University

Azra Raza is the Chan Soon-Shiong Professor of Medicine and Director of Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) Center at Columbia University. She has previously held positions at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, University of Cincinnati, Rush University, and the University of Massachusetts. Raza's research focuses on myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia.

Most recently, she is the author of The First Cell: And the Human Cost of Pursuing Cancer to the Last.

Early life[edit]

Raza was born in Karachi, Pakistan became interested in biology as well as evolution as a child. Raza then went to medical school in order to study biological sciences at Dow Medical College.[1][2]

Academic and research positions[edit]

Raza moved to Buffalo to take a residency at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, where she researched the biology and pathology of myeloid malignancies. At the age of 39, Raza was named a Full Professor at Rush University in Chicago. Following this she worked as Charles Arthur Weaver Professor of Cancer Research at Rush University, where she also became the first Director of the Division of Myeloid Diseases. She was later named the Director of Hematology and Oncology at the University of Massachusetts, and then the Gladys Smith Martin Chair in Oncology. Raza was also the Director of the Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) Center at St. Vincent's Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Raza later became Professor of Medicine and Director of Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) Center at Columbia University.[1][2][3][4]


Raza's research has defined the Cell Cycle Kinetics of Myeloid Leukemia cells in vivo in myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia by studying cellular proliferation in patients. This led researchers to believe that low blood counts were not a result of bone marrow failure, but instead a hyper-proliferative state in the marrow tissue, leading to their hematopoietic cells to die of apoptosis.[1]

Raza has also developed a tissue bank of cancer patients that contains several thousand specimens of patient tissue for her research, which she uses to identify treatment programs for various patients through genetic testing.[2] This also resulted in a research partnership with the company Cancer Genetics in 2014, "to identify more accurate diagnostic and prognostic markers for myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), as well as novel therapies to target this class of bone marrow cancers."[5] Her research into acute myeloid leukemia has shown that a mutation in their bone-building osteoclast cells of patients suffering from the disease could be one of the causes of the cancer they develop.[6]

Raza has also used genomic technology to further research the pathology of myelodysplastic syndrome, as well as RNA Sequence and global methylation studies,[1] and was a part of US President Barack Obama's "cancer moonshot" program, reporting to Vice-President Joe Biden.[7][8][9]


Raza's 2009 book Ghalib: Epistemologies of Elegance co-written with Sara Suleri Goodyear, analyzed the work of the Urdu poet Ghalib, and included translations of Ghalib's Ghazals that the co-authors performed themselves.[10] Raza also facilitates Pakistani artists during visits to New York City.[11] She also co-wrote Myelodysplastic Syndromes & Secondary Acute Myelogenous Leukemia: Directions for the New Millennium in 2001.[12]

Raza's work has appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine, Nature, Blood, Cancer, Cancer Research, British Journal of Haematology, Leukemia, and Leukemia Research.[13] She has also contributed to newspapers as an author,[14][15] and has provided talks to organizations like TEDx New York.[16]

The hypothesis that early detection and prevention of cancer may be the most humane solution for the cancer problem was summarized in Raza’s essay in The Wall Street Journal, titled: "Cancer is still beating us. We need a new start". [17]

Critical Acclaim[edit]

Raza's 2019 book The First Cell has received critical acclaim from many sources:

  • The New York Times, Books to Watch For in October 2019
  • Amazon, Top 100 Books of 2019[18]
  • LitHub, Most Anticipated Books of 2019[19]
  • BookRiot, Must-Read Books on Cancer[20]
  • Amazon, Best Science Books of 2019
  • Starred Review from Publishers' Weekly
  • Starred Review from Kirkus

Henry Marsh in the New York Times said, "Raza suggests the first cancer cell that gives rise to a tumor is like a grain of sand that precipitates the collapse of a sand pile. Research, she says, should concentrate on finding these early changes, before an actual tumor develops."[21]

The Times (London) reported, "Her most ambitious project, though, is the MDS-AML (myelodysplastic syndromes-acute myeloid leukaemia) Tissue Repository, in which tissue from every bone marrow biopsy she has taken over 35 years is banked. Founded in 1984, it’s the oldest repository of its kind created by a single physician and contains 60,000 samples from Raza’s patients, including, painfully, her husband’s."[22]

Barbara Kiser wrote in Nature: "Each year, the United States spends US$150 billion on treating cancer. Yet as oncologist Azra Raza notes in this incisive critique-cum-memoir, the treatments remain largely the same. Raza wants to see change: eliminating the first cancer cell rather than 'chasing after the last', which is doable with current technologies. Meanwhile, she braids often-harrowing stories of patients, including her own husband, with insights gleaned from laboratory and literature on this complex, often confounding array of diseases."[23]

Personal life[edit]

Raza was married to the late Harvey David Preisler, Director of Rush Cancer Institute.[24] They have one daughter, Sheherzad Raza Preisler, who also lives in New York.


Raza was a Hope Funds for Cancer Research honoree in 2012.[25] She also received the Distinguished Services in the Field of Research and Clinical Medicine award from Dow Medical College in 2014.[26] Raza is the namesake of the Dr. Azra Raza scholarship award at her secondary school alma mater, Islamabad Model College for Girls F-7/2.[27][28]


  1. ^ a b c d "Dr. Azra Raza, M.D.: Professor and Director of MDS Center, at Columbia University". 18 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "We are not doing enough to bring the advances in the lab to the bedside".
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-02-15. Retrieved 2017-05-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ Reporter, The Newspaper's Staff (15 March 2012). "In 10 years patients will be able to live with cancer".
  5. ^ "Cancer Genetics (CGIX), Columbia's Azra Raza Enter Research Collaboration".
  6. ^ Waknine, Yael (January 27, 2014). "Hit the Cancer Where It Lives: A New Approach to Treating AML". Medscape.
  7. ^ says, Frances B. Hunt (18 January 2016). "Obama's bet on science about far more than 'moonshot'". STAT.
  8. ^ "What will it take for cancer 'moonshot' cure to become reality?". 20 January 2016.
  9. ^ "New York story: Under a strange roof, thinking of home". 30 March 2015.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Raza, Azra; Mundle, Suneel D. (6 December 2012). Myelodysplastic Syndromes & Secondary Acute Myelogenous Leukemia: Directions for the New Millennium. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9781461514633 – via Google Books.
  13. ^ "Azra Raza, MD- NewYork-Presbyterian".
  14. ^ "Azra Raza, MD - The MDS Beacon". Archived from the original on 2017-06-21. Retrieved 2017-05-06.
  15. ^ Observer, The (12 January 2014). "What scientific idea is ready for retirement?" – via The Guardian.
  16. ^ "3quarksdaily: Azra Raza: Why curing cancer is so hard".
  17. ^ Raza, Azra. "Cancer Is Still Beating Us—We Need a New Start". WSJ. Retrieved 2019-12-01.
  18. ^ "Amazon editors' best science pick and top 100 of the year 2019". Amazon.
  19. ^ "Most anticipated books of 2019". LitHub.
  20. ^ "20 must-read books about cancer". BookRiot.
  21. ^ Marsh, Henry (2019-10-15). "An Oncologist Asks When It's Time to Say 'Enough'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
  22. ^ Mulkerrins, Jane (2019-11-20). "Azra Raza's mission to spot cancer earlier". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2019-12-01.
  23. ^ Kiser, Barbara (2019-10-30). "H. G. Wells, Disney's pioneering women and an oncologist's memoir: Books in brief". Nature. 574 (7780): 625. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-03269-x.
  24. ^ Janega, James (23 May 2002). "Dr. Harvey D. Preisler, 61". Chicago Tribune.
  25. ^ "2012 Honorees". 18 January 2012.
  26. ^ "3quarksdaily: Speech by Dr. Azra Raza: Our Collective Spiritual Suicide".
  27. ^ "Convocation: Islamabad Model College for Girls confers degrees upon students - The Express Tribune". 22 May 2015.
  28. ^ "Convocation: IMCG — Post Graduate students celebrate their achievements - The Express Tribune". 22 May 2014.

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