This past fall, SASN senior Jawad Salloum witnessed something that few people get to see in-person: open-heart surgery, performed by a renowned cardiac surgeon in Beirut, Lebanon, whom Salloum was shadowing while visiting the Mideast capital city.
“I was there, looking at the patient’s heart opened. It was very beautiful,” said Salloum. “The doctor was saving this person’s life. As I watched, I’m thinking, this is what I want to be when I grow up.”
Having done advanced research, published a paper in a peer-reviewed medical journal, and been awarded a prestigious summer fellowship at Harvard—all by the age of 20—Salloum is well on his way.
A native of Beirut, Salloum attended a rigorous private academy there, starting in fourth grade, and completed enough credits to graduate a year early. At age 16 he moved to the U.S. to be with his mother in Jersey City, NJ, and enrolled at Saint Peter’s University, a private Jesuit school there, where he completed his freshman year before transferring to Rutgers University–Newark in 2018.
When he arrived at RU-N as a sophomore, Salloum hit the ground running as a Biology major, joined the Honors College, and started looking for medical volunteer and research opportunities. That year he was a patient-care volunteer in the surgical department at Jersey City Medical Center, began volunteering as an EMT assistant with the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps, and started working as a research assistant in the lab of Melissa Rogers, Associate Professor of Microbiology, Biochemistry & Molecular Genetics at Rutgers NJ Medical School (NJMS) in Newark, where he has been learning about kidney disease.
"Chronic kidney disease is prevalent in so many Americans,” says Salloum. “Our goal in the lab is to identify genes responsible for the disease and use that as a pathway to a therapeutic approach.”
During his first year with Rogers, Salloum was introduced to basic lab and experimental procedures. As the 2018–’19 academic year came to a close, he applied for, and won, a competitive SASN Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), which enabled him to continue working in Rogers’ lab and take on more responsibility: Salloum ran his own experiments; learned about biostatistics; and organized, charted, graphed and analyzed his data using specialized scientific-research software called Prism.
There’s so much more to uncover in biology and medicine. We know only 10 percent, even with all the advances in medical sciences.
It was a pivotal summer for Salloum, marked by tremendous growth and culminating in his publishing his research, lead-authoring a paper in the journal Physiological Genomics in October 2020 with Rogers and another colleague as co-authors. The paper served as his senior Honors College thesis as well, completed a year early.
Covid-19 ultimately impacted both Salloum’s EMT and lab work, but he remains committed to both: He’s been working on his EMT certification, which is nearly done, and kept up with his lab work remotely through fall 2020, conducting online data analysis and preparing his paper for publication last fall. He's expecting to return to both as soon as it’s safe to do so.
In the meantime, with Rogers’ help Salloum applied for and won a coveted spot in the Harvard Summer Research Program for Kidney Medicine for summer 2020. There he’ll shadow renal physiology doctors and do lab research, while living on his own, away from family, for the first time.
“The SURF is what really opened the way for my publication and my Harvard fellowship,” said Salloum. “I’m so grateful to the SASN Dean’s Office for the summer research opportunity, and to Dr. Rogers, who's been so supportive and amazing.”
While at RU-N, Salloum has also made his mark as a campus leader. He became a member of UNICEF Unite as a sophomore, attending monthly meetings in New York City to discuss issues the U.N. organization was working on. In 2019 he started a UNICEF Club chapter on campus, which has hosted several in-person and virtual events. Recently Salloum and the club were featured in Forbes magazine in honor of World Children’s Day 2020.
“I founded the club to advocate on behalf of all children, raise money for UNICEF and raise awareness of global issues, of problems that exist beyond the U.S.,” said Salloum. “The response from our students has been great. Children are never responsible for things adults do—whether it be the wars in Yemen or Syria—and that’s why we need to provide direct assistance to children around the world.”
Salloum did just that this past fall, when he returned to Beirut for two months to volunteer and deliver humanitarian aid after the massive chemical explosion that left 300,000 Beirut residents homeless. It was while doing this work that he shadowed the cardiologist and saw his first open-heart surgery.
As for the future, Salloum is taking the MCAT this month and is looking forward to graduating in May before doing his Harvard Fellowship this summer. He’ll take a gap year before starting medical school and hopes to continue working in Rogers’ lab during that time. His goal is to become a surgeon—most likely a cardiologist, but he’s keeping an open mind—and do research as well.
“There’s so much more to uncover in biology and medicine, even with all the advances in medical sciences,” said Salloum. “And I’ve loved my time at Rutgers-Newark—my classes, professors and fellow students. I’ve had such great time here and feel very grateful.”