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K-State Today

March 9, 2017

Paul Smith provides computational expertise to team awarded $1 million grant from W.M. Keck Foundation

Submitted by Sarah Hancock

Paul Smith, professor of chemistry, is a member of a team awarded a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation.

The group is co-led by Liskin Swint-Kruse and Aron Fenton from the University of Kansas Medical Center department of biochemistry and molecular biology and aims to develop a set of rules that will predict how specific amino acid mutations alter the functions of proteins in the body. Differences in protein sequences change how diseases and drugs or other treatments affect individual people.

"Everyone's genome is a little different, and it can have big effects on how they respond to treatment, different drugs or diseases," Smith said.

"For example, if one amino acid is substituted for another, what's going to happen? And how will that affect how the protein functions? If we can control and understand these effects, the long-term goal of personalized medicine may be achieved," he said.

Smith's role is to provide computational expertise. He will model the behavior of modified proteins to provide more detail and further illuminate experimental results.

"We have the basic equations — from a combination of math, chemistry, biochemistry and physics — that tell us how the atoms in a protein interact with each other. By observing the motion of both normal and mutated proteins, we will attempt to explain the observed experimental results, but with improved atomic-level detail," Smith said.

Smith's work requires parallel computing — using many computers that work together — to complete large calculations. He uses Beocat, K-State's high-performance research computing cluster.

The W.M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 and supports pioneering discoveries in science, engineering and medical research. The grants are highly competitive. Smith is K-State's first Keck awardee.

"We are very pleased that Professor Smith's work will be supported by a prestigious Keck Foundation grant; this demonstrates the quality of research being conducted at K-State," said Beth Montelone, senior associate vice president for research.

Read a full news release about the award from the University of Kansas Medical Center.

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