Dr. Youssef A. Kousa, Kean University, Class of 2007
Kean University Alumnus Makes Breakthrough Genetic Discovery
A Kean University alumnus has made a breakthrough discovery, identifying three genes that could be responsible for two previously unrelated types of congenital disorders – cleft lip and palate, and neural tube defects like spina bifida.
With time and further research, the finding by Dr. Youssef A. Kousa ’05, ’07 M.S. and his collaborators could lead to better prenatal testing for these genetic anomalies.
“It is a very important finding because typically we think of a gene causing a disease, but this discovery shows that a group of genes can cause two congenital birth defects,” he said. “Rather than trying to find more genes, we can now go back and think about the genes that we have already identified and see if these same genes are contributing to other birth defects as well.”
Dr. Kousa, now a Child Neurology Fellow at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., remembers the “aha moment” nine years ago at Michigan State University, when studying the genetic component for cleft lip and palate in laboratory mice, he recognized the possible connection to neural tube defects. Dr. Kousa and research teams across the country then conducted thousands of experiments before proving the discovery.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is a game changer,’” he said. “I remember saying to myself, ‘This is completely unexpected; this is completely novel; this is completely new.’ We worked together with more and more people to identify what it was and have clarity about why this was happening.” Kousa earned two degrees from Kean – a B.S. in biology in 2005 and an M.S. in biotechnology in 2007. He also has a medical degree and PhD from Michigan State University. He is finishing his fellowship program at Children’s National, on his way to being a pediatric neurologist.
Dr. Kousa was 10 when he and his family emigrated from Egypt. He brought with him resilience and curiosity, traits that he says were fostered at Kean.
“There wasn’t a more perfect place for me than Kean,” said Dr. Kousa, who added that because of the diversity, strong work ethic and large number of first-generation students, he was able to seamlessly assimilate into his new environment as a college freshman.
“Kean students are phenomenal people because they understand the subtleties of life, and they have grit. They know what it means to try and try again. I am very thankful for everything that I received at Kean, all of the mentoring and guidance to feel that I could reach for bigger and better goals.”
Biological sciences Professor Xiaobo Yu, PhD, taught Anatomy and Psychology to Dr. Kousa and called him “one of the best and highly motivated students I have ever met” in the letter of recommendation he wrote for Dr. Kousa’s application to medical school.
“As I used to quote from the poet William Butler Yeats to my students, including Youssef, ‘Education is not filling up a bucket, but lighting up a fire.’ In Youssef, we succeeded in lighting the fire, and he kept the fire spreading,” said Dr. Yu. “Youssef’s success certainly reflects this, and he is a source of pride for all of us.”
In the immediate future, Dr. Kousa will continue to work with a genetic consortium across the United States and South America trying to identify genes that are contributing to other types of congenital malformations, with an emphasis on the brain.
The 36-year-old father of three hopes to split his time between the lab and direct patient care when he completes his fellowship.
“My goal has always been to live a life where I feel I have made a contribution. To me, there can be no greater contribution than to help people,” he said. “That means helping the patients I see, but also discovering something that improves our diagnostic and treatment plans for patients around the world. It’s a big goal, but I am willing to take risks and to try.”
Alumni News Nuggets
December 9, 2018
Kean University adjunct professor Irisa Leverette with two Kean degrees to her credit (BS, 1996, management science and marketing, and MPA, 2000, public administration), helps her students learn algebra, encourages them to do homework, and reduces “math anxiety” by rapping in the classroom. One might say it is her own special version of a love song – representing a labor she loves, for students she loves, at an institution she loves.
“She’ll be in the middle of a lesson, start free styling, drop the marker as if it’s a mic, and then go right back to the lesson as if nothing happened,” said Elijah Sherin, a freshman finance major. “She comes to every class excited to teach, so it makes us excited to come too.”
Professor Leverette, a resident of North Brunswick, has been teaching to her own special beat at the university since 2005. “Teaching at Kean is personal for me. When I stepped on campus in the Spring of 1992 for a tour, the first thing I noticed was a cherry blossom tree. I had never seen one in “real life.” To me it was a sign. Kean was already opening my mind to new things. No doubt, this was the school for me. Also, I loved that Kean was small, diverse and just beautiful. Everywhere I walked, flowers and trees surrounded me. It was different from other campuses she visited. But, the real cherries on top were affordability and location,” she said.
“I rip classrooms like Drake RIP stages,” Ms. Leverette says in one of her lyrics. “I’mma make algebra and trig contagious.”
While Professor Leverette has done “a little rap here, a little rap there” since she was a teenager, this semester her rapping caught on in her MATH 1000 class, which is college algebra. Read more.
Chief Operating Officer and Kean Alumna Named at Hackensack Meridian Health Southern Ocean Medical Center - May 24, 2018 (TheSandpaper.villagesoup.com)
Regina M. Foley, with a master of science in Nursing and PhD from Kean University .... has been appointed chief operating officer of Hackensack Meridian Health Southern Ocean Medical Center. She brings an extensive and successful record of excellence in various nursing and leadership roles within Meridian Health and Hackensack Meridian Health to the medical center.
"Regina is an outstanding leader. Having worked with her in various roles over the years, I am enthusiastic about the new leadership direction she brings to Southern Ocean Medical Center," said Dean Q. Lin, regional president of Hackensack Meridian Health.
Prior to being named COO at SOMC, Dr. Foley was the chief operating officer at Bayshore Medical Center. During her time there, the team achieved Magnet designation, the highest credential that can be achieved within the nursing profession.
Previously, while serving in the role of chief nurse executive and vice president of hospital operations at Ocean Medical Center, Dr. Foley was instrumental in the development of Ocean Care Center, New Jersey's first satellite emergency department, located in Point Pleasant. In addition, she led an $82 million expansion effort that included a new, state-of-the-art emergency department.
Ada Morell '97, Chair of Kean University Board of Trustees
Ada Morell '97, chair of the Kean University Board of Trustees, will be honored at the 21st Annual Kean University Gala on Thursday, June 14 at the Stone House at Stirling Ridge in Warren.
Patricia Barksdale '95
Patricia Barksdale '95, vice president and wealth management advisor in the Jersey City office of Merrill Lynch, will be honored at the 21st Annual Kean University Gala on Thursday, June 14 at the Stone House at Stirling Ridge in Warren.
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