Monday, October 29, 2018

Ryan M. Smith, PhD, uses genomics to find new treatments and optimize existing treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders. Smith is an assistant professor in the Division of Pharmaceutics and Translational Therapeutics in the Pharmaceutical Sciences and Experimental Therapeutics Department.

Smith came to the UI College of Pharmacy at the beginning of 2017 from Eli Lilly and Company where he led initiatives in genomics, patient tailoring and drug discovery in chronic pain. Prior to that, he was at The Ohio State University, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology and PhD in neuroscience, continuing as a postdoctoral scientist and research faculty in pharmacogenomics in the Department of Pharmacology.

“I have always been fascinated by the brain and behavior, which led me to study cognition as an undergraduate psychology major. Over the years, my research has become more mechanistically focused in the brain, ultimately drilling down to the level of which genes or genetic variants are important for manifesting a behavior,” Smith said. “If I can understand this, I can turn the question around in an attempt to develop therapeutics targeting these genes that can modify these behaviors.”

His work at the UI College of Pharmacy focuses on how variations in DNA impact brain functions. His lab merges the disciplines of genetics, neuroscience, and pharmacology to identify promising new drug treatments and biomarkers for brain-related disorders.

Smith uses tissues from donors to understand the biological impact of genetic variation. Once his lab understands how those variations affect which genes turn on or off in specific areas of the brain, they look at whether these changes in gene expression influence disease risk or drug treatment outcomes. Ultimately, this work could lead to better outcomes for patients dealing with psychiatric and neurological disorders.

He was excited to come to Iowa because of the diversity of scientists and specialties, and collaboration opportunities that will contribute to achieving his research goals. By better understanding how genetic variation impacts brain function, Smith identifies potential drug targets and improves the use of existing drugs. Other researchers can then build on his findings to develop and test new drugs. “At Lilly, I learned just how difficult it is to pursue a legitimate drug discovery effort and the diversity of expertise that is required. I saw this department has the right pieces I will need to achieve my long-term goals in this area,” he said.

Smith is also involved with the UI Genetics Cluster Initiative at the Carver College of Medicine. The cluster is a multidisciplinary group of researchers across colleges and departments that studies how genetics can advance personalized medicine and public health.