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Crnic Lab Dr Espinosa & Dr Smith

Researcher Profile: Keith Smith

Since childhood, Keith Smith has been curious about how “life” works, including why people are born different or get sick with diseases like cancer or Alzheimer’s.

Crnic Lab with Dr Espinosa

Today, as the Laboratory Sciences Program Manager at the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, Keith gets to feed his curiosity by overseeing the day-to-day operations of Dr. Joaquín Espinosa’s clinical research on medical conditions that co-occur with Down syndrome. This includes the management of the game-changing, GLOBAL funded, Crnic Institute Human Trisome ProjectTM (HTP).

The HTP is one of the world’s largest studies aimed at understanding co-occurring diseases and conditions in people with Down syndrome and is made up of thousands of donated biological samples. Keith manages these samples and HTP Biobank collaborations with over 30 research teams across the University of Colorado school systems and around the world.

Keith’s career in Down syndrome research is motivated by a personal connection. His older brother, Randy, 39, happens to have Down syndrome and has had a profound impact on Keith’s life in more ways than one.

“The work that I do at the Crnic Institute is rooted in love and is near and dear to my heart,” says Keith. “Randy has inspired me to be humble, kind, patient and resilient…When I need motivation, I think about Randy to remind myself to not take anything for granted and take full advantage of all opportunities.”

The HTP is proving to be a powerful discovery accelerator as the Crnic Institute team looks at biological samples and asks questions like – do the 60+% of people with Down syndrome who have sleep apnea also all have some other condition? Or are they all seemingly protected from some other condition?

Picture of Keith, Kate, and Randy

Using data from the HTP, in 2016 the Crnic Institute published its groundbreaking study that showed Down syndrome can be categorized as an immune system disorder based on overproduction of the interferon immune system response.

Keith’s wife, Kate Waugh, PhD, is an immunologist and a researcher at the Crnic Institute who is also making important contributions to this body of work. It is having a deep impact on not only on the Crnic Institute research, but on dozens of labs across the world focusing on how to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome based on this important discovery. Kate’s dedication is deeply rooted in her relationship with Keith and Randy. She half jokes that she fell in love with Randy first and then warmed up to Keith.

“I have my best friend everyday ‘in the trenches,’” says Keith. “We’re able to somewhat disconnect when we are away from the lab, having two little girls at home – Lillian and Anna – but Randy and Down syndrome research is nearly always on our minds.”

Keith and Kate often express how they are “forever grateful” for the support and funding from the Global Down Syndrome Foundation. “We are so inspired by the generosity of Anna and John Sie, and by Michelle’s tireless dedication to her daughter and everyone with Down syndrome,” says Kate.

Keith agrees, “Their vision of a world-class academic home for Down syndrome research created the Crnic Institute and paved the way for better medical care for people with Down syndrome including Randy.”

“How I gravitated towards Down syndrome was something of magic,” continues Keith. “I believe things happen for a reason, and there is a reason I am here. To truly make a difference in the lives of people with Down syndrome, and we might just make a difference in cancer research, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmunity along the way!”

Keith recently received the 2020-2021 University Research Awards for Outstanding Senior PRA and was recognized for his work during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Congratulations to Keith Smith! GLOBAL is proud and grateful for his many contributions to research benefitting our loved ones with Down syndrome.

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