Luis-Cortez-webPULLMAN, Wash. – After graduating Saturday, Luis Cortez, a first-generation student from Othello, Wash., plans to get his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees in order to “research human health issues and transfer my lab discoveries into practice.”

In between, he will take a gap year to continue working in the Washington State University lab of Steven Roberts. And before that, Cortez will present his research in Girona, Spain – a medieval city whose ancient passageways and Mediterranean seaside were filming locations last summer for the popular HBO series “Game of Thrones.”

Cortez investigates a family of enzymes (APOBEC) that exist in mammalian cells and damage viruses that have invaded the cell as part of an innate immune response. But the enzymes can also latch onto the cell’s own DNA and cause damaging mutations, potentially leading to and exacerbating cancers.

The work was recently published in the journal Cell Reports. See a WSU News article about the research at

Cortez will present his work in Spain on June 4 at the Gordon Research Symposium on mechanisms of mutagenesis and genome alterations.

Among other accomplishments, he received the Norma C. Fuentes and Gary M. Kirk Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research for his presentation at WSU’s 2016 Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities in March. And he was the only undergraduate to present a poster at an earlier Gordon conference – on DNA damage, mutation and cancer in California in March.

Cortez received support to attend the symposium and conference from the WSU Office of Undergraduate Research, the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, the WSU School of Molecular Biosciences and WSU Multicultural Student Services.


Shelley Pressley, WSU Undergraduate Education, 509-335-5488,
Emma Epperly, WSU Undergraduate Education communications, 509-335-9458,