Ryan Smith had a passion for all things science.
“He considered going pre-med before deciding to become a petroleum engineer,” says Robin Smith, Ryan’s father. “When it came to his cancer, he was behind the research aspect 110%.”
At 26, Ryan was diagnosed with stage IV adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC), a rare cancer that arises from the secretory glands. Newly married, he was enrolled at Louisiana State University in an MBA program. Ryan fought for 20 long months at MD Anderson, undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and a clinical trial. Ryan even donated tissue to help develop cell lines that would potentially lead to new research and a change in the course of disease for future patients.
“There is nowhere else that compares to the research being done at this institution,” says Smith.
Ryan passed away in June 2014, three months before the birth of his first son. His family established the Ryan W. Smith Endowed Fund for Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Research as a tribute to the spirit and grace he demonstrated throughout his fight, which will now live on in perpetuity through the endowment.
“Ryan would want others fighting similar battles to know that you’ve got to have faith,” says Gethyn Smith, Ryan’s mother. “That’s what Ryan did and what he will continue to do through the work of the doctors at MD Anderson.”
Through the fund’s support and Ryan’s tissue donation, John Heymach, M.D., Ph.D., and Renata Ferrarotto, M.D., have identified Notch 1 mutations in Ryan’s tumor and found that these mutations activate and drive ACC to an aggressive disease, defining a new subgroup of ACC that requires a different treatment approach. This discovery may help change the standard treatment for patients worldwide.
Skeet shoot saves lives
In 2015, Kimberly and Landon Smith organized a sporting clays shoot to honor Ryan’s love for the sport and to benefit the Ryan W. Smith Fund. The inaugural shoot raised funds for ACC research. The tradition continued with this year’s April 16 event in Port Allen, La.