M. Michael Barmada
M. Michael Barmada, faculty member in the Department of Human Genetics in the Graduate School of Public Health, died Dec. 2, 2016, of gastroesophageal cancer. He was 47.
Barmada was associate director of the Center for Simulation and Modeling and co-director of the Bioinformatics Resource Center in the Institute for Personalized Medicine. He held a secondary appointment in the Department of Biomedical Informatics.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biological sciences with a minor in piano composition at Carnegie Mellon in 1991; a master’s in molecular genetics at Johns Hopkins in 1993; and a PhD in human genetics with specialization in statistical and computational genetics at Pitt in 1999.
Colleagues remembered Barmada not only for his intellect and skills in computational genetics, but also for his strong desire to mentor others and share what he knew.
Dan Weeks, a faculty member in human genetics, said Barmada enjoyed research and teaching. “He did more than his fair share, freely and of his own initiative, to the benefit of the department and the whole school.”
Barmada was among the first researchers in the University to tackle next-generation sequencing, Weeks said. “He was asked so much for help that he created and taught a workshop on it.”
He also was active in expanding the University’s computing resources, not only in the department but through the Center for Simulation and Modeling, where he played an active role in connecting people with resources.
Weeks, who served on Barmada’s dissertation committee, first met Barmada as a student in the graduate program here. Later, as colleagues, they became better acquainted during several trips to teach together in India.
Weeks said Barmada used his expertise in personal genomics following his diagnosis in 2014, sequencing his own tissue and his tumor, creating a mouse model and selecting the therapy that emerged as the one with the most potential.
Barmada shared the story of his illness via a page at caringbridge.org. He also presented a talk on the process at a departmental retreat, Weeks said. “He was so optimistic, forgetting how dire the situation was.”
Weeks remembered Barmada as well for his love and devotion to his family. In comments prepared for Barmada’s memorial last month, Weeks wrote: “Dedicated family man, computer geek, geneticist educator — we are all the richer for having known and worked and taught with this kind, good, brilliant, optimistic and upbeat one-of-a-kind colleague and scholar who shared his knowledge and enthusiasm with us all in so many ways. Mike helped and taught us all, and we can only hope to honor him by continuing our important mission of research, teaching and service, while always making time for our families.”
Eleanor Feingold, also a faculty member in human genetics, met Barmada two decades ago when she first arrived at Pitt. “Mike was a grad student, but he had young children that were just a little older than mine, so even as I mentored him in his graduate program he mentored me in parenting skills. I credit him with teaching me to be relaxed and unflappable both as a parent and as a statistician,” she told the University Times.
“Mike had a good humor and positive attitude about everything,” Feingold said. He had a tremendous skill set in computational genetics, and an infinitely generous willingness to help and teach others. He was the go-to computer guru for most of the geneticists on campus, she said.
“When he wasn’t teaching and mentoring, he was always ready to just sit around and talk about research, hot topics in genetics, or just life experiences and philosophies.”
Samantha Rosenthal, a graduate student in human genetics, met Barmada in 2011 during her first year of graduate school.
“In addition to working with him in lab, he was also my professor, a member of my doctoral defense committee, and an instrumental figure in my scientific training. He was dedicated, kind and always smiling. He was inspirational, and it is safe to say those who knew him are better for it,” she told the University Times.
“He was easily one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but was incredibly approachable and humble. He had a spark about him and was always willing to help students and faculty learn. And not just because that was his job — you could tell he genuinely wanted you to understand whatever was being questioned. He was fantastic at explaining even the most complicated concepts in simple terms and in building students’ confidence.”
Barmada is survived by his wife, Christina; daughter Gabrielle Amara and sons Bischer Richard and Michael Dorian. His daughter Mary-Claire died in 2008.
Barmada also is survived by his parents Bicher and Mamdouha Barmada, brothers Fady and Sami and their wives, Carlin and Elizabeth; grandmother Yvone Ahdab; uncle Misbah Ahdab and his wife, Hind; an aunt, May Ahdab Scicluna, and her husband, Michael; cousins Nabil Yehia and Nona Yehia Sullivan and her husband, Mark; mother-in-law Eileen M. Daneker, brother-in-law Steve Daneker and his wife, Rebecca; sister-in-law Jennifer Evans and her husband, Ryan, who is a Pitt staff member in human genetics; as well as other cousins, nieces and nephews.
—Kimberly K. Barlow