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In Memoriam: Michael Siciliano, PhD

June 02, 2024
Gillian Kruse/MD Anderson Cancer Center

Michael Siciliano, PhD

Michael Siciliano, PhD, former professor of Molecular Genetics, died May 3. He’s remembered for his passion for teaching and scientific integrity.

Siciliano joined MD Anderson as a postdoctoral fellow in 1970 and joined the faculty as an assistant professor in 1972, when he also joined the faculty of our graduate school of biomedical sciences. He ascended the ranks to full professor and was given the endowed chair of Kenneth D. Muller Professor of Tumor Genetics, which he held until his retirement in 2008.

Over his long career, he was dedicated to high quality work in the lab and mentoring of students and junior faculty members to form critical thinkers in the next generation of geneticists. He kept in touch with many of his former trainees and remained a friend and mentor to many over the decades and helped introduce his current students to a wider scientific network outside of GSBS through them at conferences and other scientific events.

 

“He taught me how to approach science,” says Mary Coolbaugh-Murphy, Ph.D., assistant professor, School of Health Professions. “We had tight and complete data sets and made sure we’d filled in all the gaps – he wanted us to make sure we’re doing the right thing because our patients are counting on us.”

 

His lab focused on gene mapping and was instrumental in locating the myotonic dystrophy (DM1) gene, known for its involvement in myotonic dystrophy, the most common adult-onset neuromuscular disease. He began as a somatic cell geneticist, an area of human genetics which is no longer very active since the human genome has since been fully mapped.

“His group was really instrumental in mapping specific genes, generating many reagents, and that was what attracted me to join his lab,” says Ralf Krahe, PhD, professor, Genetics. “He wasn’t shy to implement new techniques or technologies, and it was a very exciting time to be in the lab and to contribute to the human genome project.”

Siciliano was also involved with many different committees at MD Anderson and in the graduate school, as well as being an active member of the Faculty Senate. He was elected as the chair of the Faculty Senate in 1995, the third faculty member to serve in this role. He later served as chair of the UT System Faculty Advisory Council, where he interacted with leaders and administrators from all UT institutions.

“Mike participated with enthusiasm and conviction in nearly every facet of faculty governance,” says Eugenie Kleinerman, MD, a GSBS faculty member, and professor, Pediatrics Research.

Outside of work, he was known as an avid fisherman and would often go on fishing trips with fellow scientists. Siciliano also was a huge fan of Houston sports and had season tickets to the Astros, which he would share with his colleagues and trainees when he was unable to make a game.

“He was so generous and kind underneath his rough façade that he showed to others,” recalls Coolbaugh-Murphy. “Mike was very protective of his students and trainees and taught us what we needed to succeed in the scientific world.”

Krahe agrees.

“Mike was a wonderful storyteller of scientific discoveries, and he wanted all of those who worked with him to be able to do it, too,” he recalls. “No matter what you do, you have to be able to tell a story to communicate your data and your discoveries. He will be greatly missed by us all.”

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