As an undergraduate student at the U, Gameil Fouad, BS’93, had some big decisions to make.
Having grown up in Layton, Utah, Fouad spent much of his time exploring the foothills and canyons of northern Utah.
“I honestly wanted to pursue a career in ecology or environmental science. I’d envisioned a life of working outdoors, perhaps for the Forest Service or as a field scientist somewhere in the tropics,” says Fouad. “I figured the pursuit of a degree in Biology was the right place to start.”
During his first quarter at the U, Fouad took a class from Dr. William “Bill” Gray where he got his first taste of the fascinating world of molecular biology. Being at the U also provided him the opportunity to work on campus in the University Hospital during his undergraduate years.
While working on campus, Fouad learned practical laboratory bench work, including cell cultures and using antibodies to visualize structures in frozen tissue samples. He also utilized ultracentrifugation with glucose gradients to separate cell types.
“All of a sudden, the lab became more interesting than I could have imagined. I’ve not lost my love of being outside, but now I enjoy thinking about those parts of the natural world we can’t as easily see and touch,” says Fouad.
Later in his student career, Fouad enrolled in a biochemistry class taught by Distinguished Biology Professor Toto Olivera. “It was a bit of a revelation to go check out the venomous sea snails!” remembers Fouad.
“It was also the first time I got a chance to see a professor as a fun-loving, approachable and generous person and not merely a serious ‘pillar of knowledge’ at the front of an auditorium,” says Fouad. “Over time, I came to understand that the scientific community is filled with all these interesting and decent people with whom I shared much in common and loved spending time.”
Fouad’s best advice to current students is to take advantage of all U Biology, and the entire University, has to offer.
For example, he remembers going to the Student Services Building in the early 1990s (pre-Internet) and looking at the available student jobs, which at the time were typed on handwritten 3×5 note cards posted all over bulletin boards.
“I applied for anything I could find that was even remotely STEM related. It wasn’t by any grand plan – I just knew I wanted to work in the sciences and felt the sooner I got started, the better,” says Fouad.
“Any one of these big decisions can change the trajectory of one’s life. In my case, getting that first job in a lab and pivoting from ecology to molecular biology no doubt changed my path dramatically.”
“I’ve heard it said that it’s really only a handful of big decisions – maybe a couple dozen or so – that matter,” says Fouad.
After graduating in 1993, Fouad spent several years working at the Eccles Institute of Human Genetics in the lab of Dr. Louis Ptacek (now at University of California, San Francisco), studying disease causing mutations in ion channels. Later, he attended graduate school at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland where he worked in the lab of Dr. Cheryl Maslen studying matrix proteins involved in heart development. He received his doctorate degree in 2002.
“I think people generally regard science as an exclusively ‘left brain’ exercise, focused on protocols and methods with precision and certainty. In reality, I think it’s much more of a ‘right brain’ undertaking, using a body of knowledge and fundamental principles to form new ideas, then testing them, modifying them and expanding upon them. This is truly a creative process,” says Fouad.
Today, Fouad is president of Biotron Laboratories, Inc., a local company his parents founded in 1979. (His father, Dr. M. Taher Fouad, was a highly trained scientist and researcher.) In his job, Fouad researches mineral nutrition from a unique industry perspective, bringing new ideas to bear on minerals. Along with a team of experts, Fouad develops mineral products that are highly compatible with human physiology on a molecular level. The “Biotron Process” has achieved widespread recognition as a unique and scientifically valid technique that utilizes the complete amino acid profile derived from enzymatic treatment of isolated vegetable proteins.
Fouad is married to Gina Barberi, who is a well-known radio personality on X96. They met on campus, when they both were students and were married in 2005. They have three children: Aiden, who is in Navy training to become a medical corpsman, and Sofia, and Ramzi.
“If I hadn’t been eager to take advantage of what was available at the U, things might have gone very differently!” says Fouad. “I’m simply glad it’s gone the way it has.”
by James DeGooyer