From the Front Lines of War to the Use of Forensics in the Battle for Justice

In 1990, civil war was raging in Lebanon and Maher “Max” Noureddine was trying to cope with the danger and devastation around him.  “You see, I was enrolled at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon at the time when the civil war in that country was intensifying by the day.  My education and entire future were in limbo,” he says.  That’s when he knew he had to find a more stable environment, just like many Lebanese of that time.

“I credit my cousin Rola, who was a student at Radford University, and her father Riad, then a manager with the airlines Pan America, who went the extra mile to help me obtain application forms and guide me through the college application process,” says Noureddine.  He applied to several colleges in the United States hoping to find a welcoming home away from home to pursue his dreams.  In the summer of 1990, he received two acceptance letters – one from North Texas University and the other from RU.  “I was drawn to the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, not to mention being close to ‘Cuz’ Rola who raved about her experiences as a student at RU,” he says.  Choosing Radford changed his life in many ways.

“I came to RU a couple of weeks before the start of the semester to become familiar with the area and get things organized.  The move was relatively smooth, but there were so many unknowns, so much to understand and absorb.  I spoke fluent English, and was exposed early on to various cultures and backgrounds.  From that perspective, I felt at ease.  But the fear of failure was what gripped me the most.  I had one shot at a better future than the one I left behind, and I had to do everything I can to make my transition to the US work,” says Noureddine.  His family was extremely supportive, and had faith that he would succeed. 

“The first semester at RU was an opportunity to validate everything, the move, my grasp of the academics, and perhaps as importantly, the social life.  I think everything came together smoothly.  I got to meet and know my dormitory roommate who made a very positive impact on my entire experience,” says Noureddine. These friendships are still alive in his memory today.

“Gosh, after 20 years, I still remember my entire experience at RU as if it was yesterday.  If I can summarize it in a few words, it would be the following: nurturing academic environment, kind and friendly people, and a place to be in awe of nature,” says Noureddine.  He was drawn to biological sciences since middle school and always enjoyed looking at things up close to find very small details, understand how they work and the “evidence” behind it.  “At RU, this passion for science received the nurturing and support it needed to grow.  I became more acquainted with tools and technologies in biological sciences.  I simply had the opportunity to think as a scientist without distractions,” he adds.

Just prior to graduation, Noureddine completed his first set of experiments at RU that resulted in co-authorship in a well-respected journal.  “I was hooked.  The work involved spiders and their mating habits.  People usually think that spiders build webs to catch insects, which is very true.  Spiders are brilliant in many other ways.  They "pluck" their webs, turning them into a complex string instrument that can propagate information to mates and enemies.  Dr. Fred Singer was the Principal Investigator on the project.  We called him ‘spider man.’  He was and still is an inspiration.   Dr. Judy Niehaus was another excellent teacher and a big inspiration to me.  Her course in non-vascular plants was my favorite.  It taught me many skills, including the identification of edible mushrooms, something that I continue to practice today,” he adds.

After graduation in 1993, Noureddine took a year to work prior to completing a Master of Science degree program in molecular biology at UNC-Greensboro and then a Ph.D. in molecular genetics at UNC-Chapel Hill. He decided to pursue practical experience in human genetic disorders by researching neurodegenerative disease at Duke University Medical Center for about three years as a fellow.  His research focused on understanding the links between genetic factors and disease risk.  “This work also entailed creating and utilizing animal models that could help answer questions about the interplay between genetics and the environment.  I then joined the National Institute of Health in Research Triangle Park, NC to study cancer risk and environmental factors,” he adds.

He continued to add to his set of skills in additional dimensions that will prepare him for future entrepreneurial endeavors.   “A perfect opportunity came along at a startup pharmaceutical consulting company.  I served as Chief Scientific Officer at Though Leader Select, LLC for about 3 years, another nurturing environment that I credit for my professional development in the area of business, consulting, and pharmaceuticals,” says Noureddine.

In 2010, he used his new found business acumen to create an educational nonprofit organization called the Institute for Advanced Career Development (IACD).  “This institute,” he says, “focuses on bringing two things in proximity, individuals who aspire to educate in their areas of expertise, and funding from private and public sources.  As long as this education is designed to benefit people and the community, you can become a fellow and launch your initiatives under the auspices of the IACD.” 

He and his institute were meeting the need for educational scientific resources for the community. “It turns out, just like many people out there I've been following the news and the impact of DNA analysis on the justice system.  I think we all agree that forensic DNA evidence has revolutionized criminal investigations.  Yet, there are many educational gaps that exist in that field, gaps that impact the real moving parts of our justice system, from jury, to judges, to attorneys on the prosecution and defense sides.  The public opinion and psyche have been impacted by the ‘CSI Effect’.  Although reliable under many circumstances, forensic DNA evidence has many limitations that must be respected and understood,” says Noureddine.

At first, he didn't realize that such limitations were imposing a huge burden on the system. “Nothing prepared me more to understand the extent of that problem until I dove in head first as a forensic DNA expert consultant to law professionals in several on-going criminal cases and investigations.  Long story short, as a molecular geneticist, I felt the need and found the opportunity to educate people in this area,” he says.   Noureddine began designing Forensic DNA classes and workshops through his institute. Now, he is hoping to raise the needed funds to continue this education quest in North Carolina and other states. 

In early 2011, he began a consulting company called ForensiGen in Hillsborough, N.C., to continue his consulting work on criminal and civil cases in the hope of making a positive impact on this field.  “I provide consulting services on DNA and other biologic evidence in criminal and civil cases, in addition to counsel on maternity and paternity testing and infidelity testing.  As an expert in the field, I also provide court testimony and evidence re-testing services through contracts with certified laboratories,” he says.

The company also conducts research including a project at the historic Harper House in Bentonville, N.C.  The team collected samples from the original wood floors to examine the content of suspected blood stains.  In March 1865, Harper House served as the Union army’s XIV Corps hospital during the three-day battle of Bentonville. During the battle and its immediate aftermath, nearly 600 soldiers from both armies were treated in and around the home.

Since making the life changing decision to pursue his dreams at Radford almost 20 years ago, Noureddine has adapted, grown and succeeded in making a difference in the lives of others affected by the latest advances and technologies in biomedical research, genetics and the pursuit of justice.  Now, he will offer his valuable insight and expertise to RU’s faculty and current students as a member of the College of Science and Technology’s Alumni Advisory Council.  “Radford will always have a special place in my heart,” says Noureddine.

Aug 24, 2012
Ann Brown