A Conversation with Majd Al Assaad, M.D.

We are pleased to introduce you to our new colleague Majd Al Assaad, M.D., a Research Fellow in Precision Medicine in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and a Member of the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine.

Dr. Assaad worked as an Oncology Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the American University of Beirut Medical Center before completing one year of pathology residency at the same institution, and has research experience in basic science and organic & inorganic chemistry.

We hope you enjoy learning more about Majd and his research interests.


Question: Can you tell me about your work as a Research Fellow in Precision Medicine in the WCM Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine? 

Answer: My role comprises linking the precision medicine team’s members, particularly in terms of communication, notably between the laboratory and the pathology department. I conduct supervised pathology analysis to decide the destination and utilization of tissue material handled by the EIPM laboratory based on tissue characteristics and clinical characteristics of the patient. I also help with the planning of future projects as well as the revision of prior and ongoing projects that began before my arrival at EIPM.  In addition, I am fortunate to work with a fantastic team that is open to new ideas and initiatives. It makes me happy to be surrounded by coworkers that value innovation and creativity. Everyone is open to constructive feedback and welcomes ideas about new projects. As a result, this is becoming an aspect of my job at EIPM. This allows me to continue to improve and contribute.


Q:        You have published several articles on lung cancer, what is your interest in this field of research?

A:        During my internships at the medical school, I developed an interest in lung cancer therapy, management, and characterization. This cancer type’s behavior was scientifically intriguing to me, and the fact that it was the most fatal cancer in both male and female patients, along with the complexity of the patients’ responses to various care modalities, made it a very interesting and challenging field for me. My previous research supervisor (Arafat Tfayli, MD), who is a top lung cancer oncologist in the Middle East and a very humanitarian doctor, helped to spark my curiosity.


Q:        You began your career as an Oncology Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the American University of Beirut Medical Center before completing your M.D. and one year of pathology residency at the same institution. Did you always want to work in this field?

A:        Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US, and the fact that it may strike anybody at any age and has devastating implications for people and families drove me to work in this field.  For me, the problem was deciding from which perspective I wanted to approach it and engage in it. This was due to my fascination with science and medical management, as well as my interest in cancer surgery, particularly thoracic surgery. I chose pathology as my field of study because it allowed me to blend all my interests into one profession.  By becoming a pathologist, I will be able to play a key part in cancer-related scientific breakthroughs. Also, I will have the opportunity to engage in both surgical and medicinal care of cancer patients, as well as work and explore the gross behavior of tumors removed by surgeons and submitted to pathology.


 Q:       You have research experience in basic science and organic & inorganic chemistry. What is your interest in these fields?  

A:        My initial introduction to research was in chemistry and other basic science fields. I’ve always preferred working in a laboratory setting. I learned every laboratory procedure I could get my hands on. During my undergraduate university years, I was particularly interested in physics and chemistry. I began my career in chemical research under the direction of a brilliant chemist (Rony Khnayzer, PhD), who was integrating his expertise in photodynamic complexes with cancer treatment. He offered me a lot of room to be creative and use my ideas in the research laboratory to change procedures, investigate the effects of altering variables, and come up with new ideas. This opened the way for me to develop my research personality and taught me a great deal about the chemical and biological properties of anti-cancer drugs. This knowledge allowed me to better comprehend treatment procedures and their consequences on cancer and the patient’s body as a whole.


Q:        What keeps you motivated? 

A:        For the preceding two years, I had the opportunity to help manage lung cancer clinical trials. My role as a research fellow put me in a position to be near cancer patients, which allowed me to assist them with all aspects of their lives, including emotional and social challenges, in addition to their medical concerns. I needed to be there to answer their questions 24-hours a day, every day. Those two years taught me about the importance of our job and about the responsibility towards the patients. It proved how even minor breakthroughs may have a significant impact on people’s lives. This motivates me to continue doing what I’m doing. In addition, I was exposed to many aspects of research, which has helped me grasp the difficulties of completing each task in a project. Consequently, I enjoy collaborating with my coworkers and have a better understanding of their project duties. Thus, being helpful to my team is very fulfilling and motivating for me to work harder and achieve more.


Q:        Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your work? And if so, how? 

A:        It had a direct influence on my job as a healthcare worker. Unfortunately, when the first wave arrived, my home country’s health system was not prepared. This pandemic wave coincided with a drastic economic crisis in Lebanon and an explosion that destroyed much of the capital, Beirut, which was only about a mile away from the American University of Beirut Medical Center, where I was doing my medical residency. I volunteered in the COVID-19 ER at the same hospital. Working on the frontline made me understand the pain of COVID-19 patients, which was brought on not just by the virus but also by the need of hospitalization during the economic crisis. The situation strained the health-care system’s resources and raised the cost of hospitalization. My fellow pathology trainees and attendings also volunteered on the frontline, increasing pressure on the anatomical pathology department’s workflow. This was one of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever had, and one that I’ll never forget since I was able to witness firsthand the virus’s catastrophic effects.


Q:        What do you like to do when you’re not working? 

A:        When I’m not working, I enjoy playing basketball, watching games and read coaching books. I’m concentrating on learning more about basketball-related injuries and sports mechanics. I also spend most of my free time with my family, which keeps me grounded. The most critical resource I have is my family, and they support me through the ups and downs of my life.

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