Dr. Chris Smith: Kurt Ian Wey, M.D. Pediatrics Award

By Alex Lyda

Dr. Chris Smith
Dr. Chris Smith

Dr. Chris Smith grew up north of the Red River, but crossed it for his medical education, and now is going east of the Mississippi for his residency, to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 

The 32-year-old Sand Springs, Okla., native and 2013 recipient of the Kurt Ian Wey, M.D. Pediatrics Award didn’t always know he wanted to be a doctor. But he has liked science as long as he can remember.

At Oklahoma State University, Dr. Smith initially majored in chemical engineering. His passion changed to basic science when he began working in a laboratory studying photosynthetic proteins. While at OSU, he also studied the organic synthesis of calcium channel blockers and helped develop a vaccine for shipping fever in cattle.

Dr. Smith began his eight-year tenure at UT Southwestern Medical Center in the M.D./Ph.D. program and pursued his interest in medicine and basic science in the laboratory of Dr. Michelle Tallquist, former Associate Professor of Molecular Biology. That is where he became interested in cardiac development.

The Wey Award is named in honor of a 1998 UTSW graduate who died in an automobile accident. Established by the Wey family and friends, it recognizes a fourth-year medical student who shows empathy and compassion for sick children, has significant knowledge, and maintains a good sense of humor.

“Chris brings a very scholarly approach to patient care, honed by his years in a research lab, but really it’s just an innate personality trait of his,” said Dr. Soumya Adhikari, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics. “Pair that with his love of kids, and you have the perfect setup for being a great pediatrician.”

In the lab, Dr. Smith also indulged his penchant for computer programming. He embarked on networking a sophisticated computer cluster to run computational analyses on the next-generation sequencing data aimed at identifying novel genes and mechanisms involved in cardiology and cancer biology.

“The heart is composed of strong but not invincible components,” Dr. Smith said. “Understanding how it recovers from a heart attack, and how it might be able to regenerate with the help of future therapies, will help us understand how it forms and how we might be able to keep it from hardening over time.”

He said he’ll always have a soft spot in his heart for kids, however.

“I really love both science and medicine, especially in pediatrics,” he said. “I love taking care of little kids. When you first meet them, they are sick and don’t want to interact, but as you work with them and help them get better, they start to open up. Pretty soon they want to play games and tell you all about their day.”