WSU biochemistry student studies genetic disease to help people like her father

Taylor Moore standing in a field of red tulips.

Washington State University student Taylor Moore’s father has for decades suffered the debilitating effects of intervertebral disc degeneration, a condition characterized by the breakdown of one or more discs in the spine, causing chronic pain in the back or neck.

“He looks normal, but he can’t do the normal things that other people can do,” Moore said. “Although he can’t do activities for an extensive period of time, he doesn’t want that to stop him from being there for my sister and me. It’s basic things that we all take for granted.”

Moore, a biochemistry major in the School of Molecular Biosciences, hopes her experience at WSU will lead her to a career in which she can study genetic diseases and help to create new and affordable therapeutic technologies to help people like her father.

“These are diseases and conditions that are debilitating,” Moore said. “We need better treatment options that are cost-effective and accessible to everyone – that’s what I want to help do.”

From Lynnwood, Washington, Moore and her identical twin sister are first-generation college students. While her sister is majoring in digital technology and culture, Moore has gone the science route.

WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine encourages interested undergraduate students to begin working in research laboratories with leading faculty as early as their freshman year. Moore took advantage of the unique opportunity by securing a position in the lab of Bert Tanner, an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience. Tanner’s research centers around proteins that influence muscle contraction and relaxation dynamics.

In addition to the opportunity to gain early experience in the lab, Moore has also found the college’s faculty, like associate professors John Hinz and Phil Mixter, are genuinely interested in helping students succeed.

She first had Hinz as an instructor for a biology course during her freshman year, and she also has worked under him as a work study student and a teaching assistant.

“He has been a professor, a supervisor, an advisor and a mentor to me from the beginning. He was the one who introduced me to the idea of graduate school and influenced me to become a biochemist,” Moore said. “He has been an inspiration and an amazing mentor, and he’s someone I aspire to be.”

While she didn’t meet Mixter until this past semester, his commitment to students is hard to miss.

“I remember him the first day of class saying if you ever need research help or finding summer job opportunities, come see me, I love to help. I literally went up to him after class and said, ‘I need help,’ ” Moore said. “He really encouraged me to look not only at the School of Molecular Biosciences but other areas like the Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology department, which I thought only accepted graduate students in labs. He has helped me in so many ways.”

Moore is scheduled to graduate in May of 2023. She plans to apply to graduate school, but she has not determined whether she would rather go into human or veterinary medicine, both of which could lead to exciting and impactful medical discoveries.

“I am just trying to find what is most interesting me and that I can see myself doing long term,” she said. “I definitely love science, but I am still discovering what career path I want to take.”