McLaughlin Institute
  1. Meet MRI’s 2019 Summer Interns

    November 12, 2019 by admin

    Havilah Neujahr has always loved biology and is no stranger to research.  Under the supervison of her math instructor and advisor at the University of Providence, Havilah embarked upon a research project that involved classifying moles as either malignant or benign based on the ABCD classification system.  A = asymmetry, B= border irregularity, C= color, D=diameter.  Once numerical values were calculated for each classification, those numbers were run through two logistic regression models, the quadratic model and the linear model.  The output for each value was the probability of whether each more was malignant or benign.  During the process of gathering and analyzing data, Havilah discovered she loved math AND research in addition to biology.  She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and Bachelor of Science in mathematics from the University of Providence.  Havilah has already earned an Associate of Arts and an Associate of Science degree from Great Falls College, MSU  Outside of her studies, Havilah tutors students in calculus, statistics, computer science, physics.



    Gail Parambi has aspired to work in the medical field since she was a child.  Gail is currently working as an extern in the office of local neurologist, Dr. Dennis Dietrich.  She is very interested in the clinical trials underway through Dr. Dietrich’s practice and has seen first hand the everyday plight of patients with neurodegenerative diseases.  Gail has taken time to research the diseases that are part of the clinical trials so she can speak to these patients with understanding.  Gail has been intrigued by McLaughlin’s own Dr. John Mercer and his research detecting inherited cardiomyopathies. Gail is currently a senior at C.M. Russell high school.  She is involved in many activities outside of school including the varsity tennis team as well as holding an officer position in the CMR HOSA-Future Health Professional organization.  Gail also competes in tournaments around the state on the Lincoln Douglas varsity debate team.



    Joseph Guter was a student intern in 2018 and returned to volunteer during the 2019 school year and through the summer. Joseph continued his work on characterizing the  SLC1A4 function and the function of two SLC1A4 mutations known to cause disease in people.  During his summer internship last summer, Joseph characterized SLC1A4 function in frog oocytes under the direction of Derek Silvius.  This year, Joseph began looking at SLC1A4 function in tissue culture using astrocyte cultures.

  2. Summer Program 2019

    by admin

    The goal of educators is to equip students with the skills, tools and knowledge they will need to engage in the world around them.  That world is continuously changing and is increasingly impacted by technology.  Student interns at McLaughlin Institute had the opportunity to participate in a project that brought technology to the science laboratory classroom. University of Providence junior Havilah Neujahr and CMR senior Gail Parambi took over 20,000 digital images of microorganisms for use in creation of online resources for science labs.

    Experiences in sciences labs are an important component of higher education as experiments can make fundamental concepts tangible for students.  Because of the practical, hands on nature of sciecne labs, this category of education has been one of the last areas to move to online distance learning.  Microbiological studies in particular present unique challenges because biological samples are difficult to simulate with virtual labs and often are too hazardous to let a student conduct the experiment at home.

    The intern project, overseen by affiliate MRI faculty member Dr. Brenda Canine, addressed both of these issues.   “By creating a catalog of microbiological samples we can create a large number of laboratory scenarios for students to interact with, and because these were real lab samples, collected by students, common pitfalls we see in teaching labs were also replicated and can be incorporated into the scenario. When things don’t work absolutely perfectly is when critical thinking and problem solving skills can be developed.”    Using an online learning system allows these scenarios to be put into a practice and delivered to distance learners.

    Distance education is especially important in a geographically large and academically isolated state like Montana.  By having these online resources for students, opportunities become available for students in rural areas.  Distance learning can increase access and enable students to develop and hone technology skills.

  3. New Research Projects at MRI

    November 22, 2017 by admin

    MRI researchers Mike Kavanaugh, Teresa Gunn, and Deb Cabin began work this summer on a new genetically engineered mouse model of a common inherited neurotransmitter transporter gene mutation that causes cognitive and developmental delay in children. The team aims to determine the genetic and physiological mechanisms underlying the disorder, and they will test a novel therapeutic approach to treat the disorder using a drug developed at the University of Montana School of Pharmacy. Preliminary studies with the new drug have also suggested that it represents a new potential approach to treat schizophrenia.

    Dr. Teresa Gunn received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to collaborate with GeneSearch, Inc. of Bozeman, Montana, to develop new technologies that will streamline the creation of mouse models of human disease. The work is opening up new possibilities to more rapidly advance understanding of the genetic basis of human disease.

    MRI researchers and Harvard/MIT collaborators Sonia Vallabh and Eric Minikel launched a preclinical trial this fall at MRI to test a new gene-silencing approach to treat prion disease. In the ongoing trial, the team is using a new DNA-based drug from Ionis Pharmaceuticals to treat the disease in mice, with the ultimate aim to translate the treatment to human disease. Sonia and Eric spoke at MRI two years ago about their journey into prion research with guidance from MRI. Sonia carries the gene for Fatal Familial Insomnia, a prion disease that killed her mother at age 52, and they are racing against the clock to find a way to save Sonia and others like her from this dreadful disease.

    McLaughlin Research Institute and collaborators at Columbia University received three grants this year from the National Institutes of Health to support research at MRI with mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease. The mice are genetically engineered to recapitulate human mutations linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Studies with these mice will provide critical information to understand the pathological mechanism of changes in genes such as the ApoE4 allele, which are associated with increased prevalence of the disease.

  4. MRI Welcomes Affiliate Research Faculty Members

    November 21, 2017 by admin

    McLaughlin Research Institute is pleased to announce several new affiliate faculty members who are focused on translating basic research into cures and have projects underway at MRI. Our new colleagues are:

    1. Jeffrey Carroll, Ph.D. While Jeff was serving in the U.S. Army in Kosovo,
    his mother was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease – a fatal, incurable,
    genetically inherited neurodegenerative disease that had killed his grandmother.
    After he learned that he had inherited the genetic abnormality that causes
    Huntington’s, Jeff embarked on a career as a neuroscientist that has included
    postdoctoral training at Harvard and a post at Western Washington University,
    where he is Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and one of the country’s leading
    Huntington’s researchers. In work funded by the CHDI foundation
    ( he and his and his group will be conducting
    preclinical trials of a promising new gene-silencing approach to Huntington’s
    disease at MRI, using mice genetically engineered to model the disease.

    2. Niels Danbolt, MD, Ph.D., is Professor of Medicine in the Institute of
    Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo in Norway. Dr. Danbolt’s work has
    resulted in the creation of several innovative genetic models to study and
    eventually develop treatments for neurodegenerative disorders like epilepsy. A
    research collaboration between the Danbolt and Kavanaugh labs is focused on
    transporters for neurotransmitters that are involved in critical brain functions
    like perception and memory. Dr. Danbolt and his associates will spend part of the
    year in Montana for these studies funded by the Research Council of Norway and
    the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

    3. Ed Schmidt, Ph.D., is Professor in Montana State University’s Department
    of Microbiology and Immunology. Dr. Schmidt’s NIH-funded research is focused on
    understanding the role of gene regulation in processes ranging from aging to
    cancer. His lab has created innovative genetic models in mice that are now being
    used in research at MRI. His studies of the mechanisms involved in handling
    oxidative stress are shedding new light on the links between metabolism and a wide
    range of disease processes including many that affect the brain.

  5. MRI Medical Clinic to Open in 2019

    November 20, 2017 by admin

    McLaughlin Research Institute eagerly anticipates the 2019 launch of the Center for Cognitive and Metabolic Wellness, the onsite clinic at MRI that will provide patient care and clinical research under the direction of Carol Bridges, MD. The clinic, a collaboration with Benefis Health System, will provide a model for speeding application of research discoveries to the patient.

    The clinic will be the site of a clinical study on Alzheimer’s in collaboration with Providence Health & Services and its Chief Science Officer, Dr. Leroy Hood, a pioneering scientist and a longtime member of MRI’s Scientific Advisory Committee.

    The clinic’s director, Dr. Bridges, has opened several CostCare Family Practice Walk-In Clinics in Missoula and Helena, which she created to focus on wellness and disease prevention. This innovative healthcare model is aligned with the “P4 Medicine” promoted by Leroy Hood, MD, PhD. Predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory medicine is the medicine of the future, thanks in part to Dr. Hood, who has been working toward this goal since the mapping of the human genome – a project he helped make possible – revealed genetic information that is revolutionizing medicine to predict and prevent the diseases each individual is genetically susceptible to.

    Dr. Bridges has practiced medicine in Missoula for nearly 20 years. We are delighted to welcome her as Clinical Director of the Center for Cognitive and Metabolic Wellness at MRI.

    Other clinicians affiliated with MRI’s new clinic include the following:

    Soo Borson, MD, has been helping steer MRI in this clinical
    direction for several years as a consultant. She is professor
    emerita at the University of Washington, where she founded the
    Memory Disorders Clinic and was a director of the Alzheimer’s
    Disease Research Center for many years. She developed the
    Mini-Cog, a widely used and highly regarded screening tool for
    cognitive impairment and works with communities to develop
    services for people with cognitive impairment.

    Dennis Dietrich, MD, is a neurologist with Advanced Neurology
    Specialists in Great Falls. His commitment to finding the best and
    newest treatment options for his patients with cognitive
    impairment, multiple sclerosis and stroke keeps him actively
    involved in conducting clinical trials for new therapies.

    Loretta Bolyard, PhD, is a clinical psychologist practicing
    independently in Butte, Montana, where she specializes in
    neuropsychology and the treatment of patients with cognitive
    disorders including Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.

    With this dynamic team, the Center for Cognitive and Metabolic Wellness will participate as one of several trial sites in a clinical trial run by UCLA’s Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research in collaboration with Dr. Hood’s team at Providence Health & Services.

    The ultimate goal of the project is to develop approaches to prevent or delay the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Hood and others have provided preliminary data suggesting new approaches that may slow or potentially reverse the disease progression. The clinical trial will evaluate these approaches and hopefully advance them further toward widespread application.

  6. McLaughlin Research Institute Receives Two Significant Donations

    July 3, 2017 by admin

    Great Falls, Montana – June 1, 2017 – McLaughlin Research Institute (MRI) recently received two donations totaling nearly $1,000,000. The first gift is a charitable remainder trust established by Irving Weissman and the second is a bequest made by the late Leroy Strand. “This is a real vote of confidence in MRI,” said Randy Gray, Chair of the Board of Directors. Dr. Michael Kavanaugh, the director of MRI, said “The generous contributions from Irv Weissman and Leroy Strand to the McLaughlin Research Institute will help us move forward with a number of innovative and exciting neurodegenerative disease research projects, including a new clinical research site at the Institute.”

    Although these donors led very different lives, both have been committed to the innovative biomedical research and education carried out at the Institute. Here are their stories.

    In 1956, an eager high school sophomore, Irving Weissman, approached MRI director Dr. Ernst Eichwald about the possibility of working in the lab. Irv was persistent and, after he made it clear that he didn’t expect to be paid, was allowed to help change mouse cages after school. He quickly became more and more involved in the lab and the excitement of research, and spent most of his high school, college, and medical school summer vacations working on research projects at MRI. These experiences inspired him and helped launch a distinguished career which included his pioneering work in the discovery and clinical applications of stem cells. Dr. Weissman currently serves as Director of Stanford University’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and he chairs the McLaughlin Research Institute’s Scientific Advisory Committee. His experience inspired the summer intern program which is still in existence today.

    Leroy Strand spent his lifetime working around cattle and horses. As a boy he helped with his father’s livestock business and also fed beef calves to show for 4-H. In 1940 he became a partner with his father in the Oswald Strand & Son livestock business in Manly, Iowa where large cattle auctions were held annually for many years. Four years later Leroy entered into a partnership with his parents and brother in purchasing a cattle ranch near Geyser, Montana. He became sole owner of the Strand Ranch in 1964, and operated and managed it until 1998. He continued to live on the ranch and enjoyed coming down to the corrals to evaluate the cattle, watching the hay operation, and driving around showing visitors the beauty of the land. Leroy was a generous and consistent friend of the Institute since 2005.

    The McLaughlin Research Institute is an internationally recognized center for research on degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, MS, and prion diseases. The Institute is an independent, nonprofit organization that develops and maintains genetically engineered cell lines and mice that model human disease. Research with these model at MRI and in collaborators’ labs throughout the world is focused on developing and testing new therapies to prevent and cure these devastating diseases. The Institute is also committed to outreach and education for young Montanans.

  7. Mike Kavanaugh Takes the Helm at McLaughlin Research

    March 17, 2017 by admin

    Michael Kavanaugh, PhD, Director of the Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience at the University of Montana since 2003, is McLaughlin Research Institute’s new director. Dr. Kavanaugh replaced outgoing director George Carlson in December. “Mike Kavanaugh’s scientific expertise, energy, and desire will make for a powerful leader of this long-historied Montana science institution,” said
    Dr. Leroy Hood, a longtime member of McLaughlin’s Scientific Advisory Committee and, among many other superlative titles, a winner of the National Medal of Science for his outstanding contributions to science and medicine…

    Click here to read entire MRI Spring 2017 Newsletter

  8. Annual Report: July 1, 2012 – June 30, 2016

    September 2, 2016 by admin

    MRI-Cover-R1We are pleased to present McLaughlin Research Institute’s Annual Report: July 1, 2012 – June 30, 2016. You’ll be interested to learn about new approaches used in the lab to further understand neurodegenerative brain diseases, and the efforts to create alternative funding sources to secure our future.

    Click here to view the report

  9. Initiative 181 Qualifies for November 8th, 2016 ballot

    July 18, 2016 by admin

    Article in Great Falls Tribune, July 14, 2016 – Ballot Initiative 181, the Montanans for Research and Cures Initiative

  10. Governor Bullock introduces Montana Alzheimer’s & Dementia State Plan

    June 28, 2016 by admin

    June 20, 2016 marked the beginning of a new day for families suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. In introducing the Montana Alzheimer’s Plan with Governor Bullock, we paid tribute to all those we’ve lost to this disease and all those left in its wake.

    “We have numerous resources at the ready but have lacked an organized inventory and efficient way to deliver them throughout the state to those in need,” said Lynn Mullowney, executive director of the Montana chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

    With that in mind, Gov. Steve Bullock and the Montana Alzheimer’s/Dementia Work Group rolled out on June 20, 2016, the Montana Alzheimer’s State Plan, Montana’s first-ever plan to prepare for and deal with the disease and similar conditions.

    Click here for the full article by Zack Benoit, Helena Independent Record


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