Inspiring grads: Anis Barmada

Anis Barmada
Anis Barmada (Photo: Joshua Clark)

While growing up in Damascus, Syria, Anis Barmada faced challenges that could derail the most positive person. 

To cope with the loss of his father at age 6 and contend with the danger of a civil war, he remained strong in mind and spirit with the help of his mother and brother.  

In 2015, he was well-served by his confident determination upon immigrating to the U.S., where he had to quickly adjust to a new culture, become fluent in English and begin his senior year at Wheeling High School.

Educational goals and opportunities to improve the quality of life for himself and others have been consistent motivating forces for Barmada from Syria to UIC, where he has been an Honors College member and will earn degrees in biological sciences and chemistry from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

In April, he was one of 49 international students selected for the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship for graduate studies at the University of Cambridge.

Barmada earned the honor through a highly competitive selection process, which emphasizes outstanding academic achievement and social leadership. The newly elected international cohort joins more than two dozen scholars from the U.S., who were announced in February, to complete the Gates Cambridge class of 2020.

The prestigious scholarship, which aims to build a global network of future leaders committed to improving the lives of others, is funded by the Gates Cambridge Trust established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

He will pursue a master’s degree in genomic medicine in the department of medical genetics in the School of Clinical Medicine at Cambridge.

“I hope to visualize the molecular, analytical, statistical, social and clinical challenges facing the use of omics-based personalized medicine across everyday clinics,” he said. “Professionally, I intend to pursue an MD/Ph.D. advancing biochemical and computational technologies to address currently incurable diseases and contributing to the crafting of a new era of health care without disparities.”

Barmada, who is minoring in mathematics, is part of the President’s Award Program STEM Initiative at UIC, which is a selective peer and faculty network for students in STEM disciplines to do research, develop professional connections and prepare for graduate education.

Since his first year at UIC, he has conducted research on diabetic eye disease in the laboratory of Scott Shippy, UIC associate professor of chemistry and bioengineering, while also volunteering at an ophthalmology clinic that serves patients of the same life-changing, blindness-causing disease conditions.

“Through these experiences, I found an articulation of my interests in patient-driven research that considers both the biochemical and socioeconomic lenses,” he said.

Shippy considers Barmada “nothing short of remarkable” and, as an example, noted his key role in the lab’s project to collect tears from mice to look for markers of disease that resulted in two first-author publications from the young researcher.

“He has grown tremendously from those first days learning the basic lab techniques to the present day with a research-oriented opinion article under review in an ophthalmology journal,” Shippy said. “With his intellect and astounding work ethic, I predict he will have a large impact on the future of health care as a scientist-physician.”

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is the latest honor for Barmada, who earned a prestigious Goldwater scholarship in 2019 and was among the U.S. finalists for a 2020 Rhodes Scholarship.

He is the recipient of several scholarships and awards, in addition to research support via Honors College research grants, the Liberal Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Initiative and the chemistry department’s Herbert E. Paaren Summer Research Stipend.

Barmada, a resident of Mount Prospect, is the fifth UIC student to win a Gates Cambridge Scholarship since the program was established through a $210 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000.

He credits his life and educational experiences for shaping his work ethic, skills to adapt and positive thinking.

“Finding order in my disordered life experiences gave me precious lessons that schools cannot teach,” said Barmada in a 2019 interview with UIC Today. “What keeps me motivated in my research is that although I do not know if there is a cure for every disease, I know we simply must work hard to find it.”

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