Ph.D. graduate student Garry Smith (WSU)

Ph.D. graduate student Garry Smith

PULLMAN - Proteins are known as the building blocks of life, and for Washington State University Ph.D. graduate student Garry Smith, the study of proteins is a foundation for the beginning of a career.

Smith has recently won a graduate fellowship from the American Heart Association to continue his research on filament-like proteins in heart muscle cells that are critical to the heart’s function. The fellowship, which includes two years of financial support, provides mentored research training for promising graduate students to encourage careers in cardiovascular and stroke research.

Originally from Shelton, Washington, Smith came to WSU to study engineering after receiving support through a Regents Scholarship. As the first in his family to pursue a college education, adjusting to the culture of college was challenging, but throughout his undergraduate years, he thrived in his classes, eventually settling on bioengineering as his major. He enjoyed his work tutoring students, which led to his interest in an academic career.

Now a graduate student in WSU’s Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, Smith is studying mechanisms of thin filament length regulation by a protein called leiomodin. The work could someday lead to possible diagnostics and medical treatments for serious hereditary heart conditions that come about from genetic mutations in the proteins.

He is also a trainee in WSU’s National Institute of Health Protein Biotechnology Training Program. The program offers state-of-the-art training in biotechnology, with an emphasis on protein science.

“I study very specific proteins, but proteins are proteins — They’re everywhere,” he said. “The techniques that I have learned can be applied to a variety of applications and open the door for all kinds of opportunities in the future. With what I’ve learned in graduate school, I can really do anything in this area of research.”

Working under Professor Alla Kostyukova in the Voiland School, Smith has presented his work at the GPSA Research Exposition, taking first place this year. He also has presented at the NIH Protein Biotechnology Annual Symposium and has been a co-author on several research journal articles.

The fellowship will allow him to learn new techniques and expand his knowledge in protein research, traveling to a collaborator’s lab in Arizona.

Smith has spent years building his skills step-by-step, including developing his research, publishing a paper, and submitting and revising proposals.

“I’m in disbelief,” he said. “For all that work to pay off is really gratifying.”