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Faculty Focus: Mohamad Mokadem, MD

Date: Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Mohamad Mokadem portraitWhat is your hometown? 

Tripoli, Lebanon.

How/when did you become interested in science and/or medicine?

I became interested very early in college as an undergrad chemistry major, and I had a choice of pursuing an industry or academic career. Part of it is there is a culture of success in Lebanon, you must become a doctor, or engineer, or a very successful scientist—which is difficult to judge—so doctor seemed to be the logical path.

I like people and science in general and that’s why medicine became interesting to me. Then while I was in Texas, I discovered molecular and animal based medicine/research. While getting GI training in Texas I met an amazing group of scientists five of the six of whom are Nobel Laureates. They were discovering things that change the lives of millions of people.

One of the faculty in GI had a second appointment in the neuro-hypothalamic division studying how the gut and the brain talk together. I became instantly fascinated with that field and now that field has exploded with the study of the microbiome and how the bacteria in the gut are speaking directly to your brain. So I did a post doc fellowship on top of my clinical fellowship in the neuro-hypothalamic division. So that is how I became a physician scientist. 

When did you join the University of Iowa faculty?


How or why did you choose to join the faculty at the University of Iowa?

Well it wasn’t the weather. But the culture and the hospitality of people here is really great. I remember someone knocked on our door when we first moved here and they had a cake to give us just for moving in! I have lived in other areas where if you get a knock on the door at night you call 911, but in Iowa, they bring cake.

The main reason was because of the lab/science, because I knew of examples where an institution doesn’t provide balance between science and clinical work. And my wife’s family lives in Michigan so I wanted to get my family closer to Michigan. And of course the startup package was a big factor, the startup package actually allowed me to start a lab and to practice science while writing for grants to support my science. The reputation and integrity of the faculty here played another important role in my decision. Colleagues here are willing to share data and are open to collaboration. There’s an openness here that doesn’t exist in other institutions. And my wife liked Iowa as well.

Is there a teacher or mentor who helped shape your career?

I definitely had people shape the way I think back in Lebanon; one would be the Program Director for Residency Training at American University in Beirut (AUB) medical center. She was able to see in a person where their passion lies and facilitate their path into that career choice. She was very concerned about making changes in people’s lives. She has probably influenced the lives of many thousands of doctors.

In Dallas three people were mentors of mine: Jay Horton, who graduated from the University of Iowa, in fact one of his offices has a huge Hawkeye emblem hanging on the wall. Joel Elmquist, head of the Hypothalamic Division, a graduate of Iowa State, came with his team from Harvard and established a world class research lab at Texas. Ezra Burstein was the one who afforded me the opportunity to work on a T-32 grant from NIH. 

How do you see your faculty role impacting medicine and/or science?

I'm moving from clinical to understand molecular—most people forget about the first year of medical school, back to molecular and pathways—and with a purpose and how it affects a big population.

What is the biggest change you’ve experienced in your field since you were a student?

Obesity is now an official disease so we are still learning how to treat it. Coronary artery disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke are all related to obesity, so we are now studying how that can be manipulated with proven methods to make you lose weight. For instance understanding bariatric surgery and how it works so we can mimic that mechanism with drug delivery or other methods. As a physician it will be ultimately satisfying to see how it works with patients and not just in animal studies. So I will be able to see the end result so I have the benefit of both worlds: clinician and scientist. The impact is a hard and important topic. 

What one piece of advice would you give to today’s students?

Be true with yourself. To enjoy it don’t wait until you reach your final goal to enjoy life, the joy is in the ride itself. The joy must be in your day-to-day work. Some people have a tendency to drag it on; the way to know is if you stop doing it and you are unhappy, then that’s what you should do.

In what ways are you engaged in professional activities outside the University?

In Iowa I  haven’t been as active as in Texas where both my wife and I were more involved in Cultural Diversity and there was a chapter AUB so we served as mentors from my alma mater. 

I am interested in going to area schools to do some fun things surrounding obesity in children. I would like to use the 5210 program to intervene in obesity before children hit puberty. Making kids understand the full impact of nutrition.

  • 5 – fruits and veggies/day
  • 2 – hours maximum screen time per day (more screen time increases laziness)
  • 1 – hour of unrestricted play (they make up their own activities)
  • 0 – juices and/or soda.

What are some of your outside interests?

Outside of medicine both my wife and I love to travel and to see different cultures and areas. Learning about and meeting new people. It keeps you open minded and grateful for your own life. Traveling by itself is a joy to me. 

Learn more about Mohamad Mokadem, MD.