McLaughlin Institute
  1. New Affiliate Faculty – Dr. Miranda Orr

    December 11, 2020 by admin

    McLaughlin Research Institute has added Dr. Miranda Orr as an Assistant Professor. More information about Dr. Orr can be found here.

  2. Student Volunteers 2020

    November 23, 2020 by admin


    Joseph Guter is a 2019 graduate from Great Falls High School and currently a sophomore at University of Chicago majoring in genetic engineering.  Joseph began working at MRI over the summers of 2018 and 2019 as one of the student interns working with Dr. Teresa Gunn and Dr. Mike Kavanaugh on SLC1A4 gene mutations that cause developmental and cognitive delays in children. As an intern, he learned a variety of techniques ranging from immunofluorescence to cloning to electrophysiology and characterized SLC1A4 mutations in a new transgenic mouse model. Joseph returned over the summer of 2020 and worked on a project funded by the State of Montana to develop and test a SARS-COV-2 pseudovirus system that can be used to assay antibodies for vaccine testing as well as drug development for therapies to prevent or treat infection.



    Wyatt Walters is a 2019 graduate of Central Catholic and currently a sophomore at University of Montana. Wyatt is majoring in Biology with an emphasis on human biological sciences. He is a part of the Davidson’s Honor College and the Frankie Global Initiative. Wyatt is on the pre-med track and hopes to become a pediatrician. During Wyatt’s time at the Institute, he was trained in testing memory deficits in transgenic mice carrying mutations that cause Alzheimer’s disease. Using spatial maze assays, memory can be tested in Alzheimer’s mice and the effects of new therapeutic drugs can be evaluated by testing their effect on navigation performance. Wyatt established baseline memory functions in a familial Alzheimer’s mouse model called 5XFAD and he also began work assessing memory deficits in a mouse model for frontotemporal dementia using the Y-maze.



    Renee Wanke, a 2016 graduate of Great Falls High School and a 2020 graduate of Washington University, is working in the laboratory of Dr. Mike Kavanaugh. Renee will be picking up Joseph’s SARS-Cov-2 project and Wyatt’s Y-maze analysis project.









    Sara Tarum is a 2018 graduate of Central Catholic School and a junior at University of Providence.  Sara joined the Institute as a volunteer in the summer of 2020.  Sara has proven to be a tremendous asset for Dr. Miranda Orr’s Alzheimer’s disease project.  Sara is involved in every aspect of this project including conducting behavioral assessment, entering data, assisting in tissue harvests, making solutions, shipping tissues and everything in between.







  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. 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.

  6. 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

  7. McLaughlin Research Institute hires new director

    November 1, 2016 by admin

    McLaughlin Research Institute has named Mike Kavanaugh, Ph.D, Director of the Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience at the University of Montana, as its new director. Dr. Kavanaugh will replace outgoing director George Carlson in December.

    According to longtime member of McLaughlin’s Scientific Advisory Committee Dr. Leroy Hood, “Mike Kavanaugh’s scientific expertise, energy, and desire will make for a powerful leader of this long-historied Montana science institution.”

    Dr. Kavanaugh has had a long relationship with MRI. His Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience has worked as a partner with McLaughlin over many years. He attends annual science workshops at MRI and has presented his own research there.

    “I’ve known him for ages” said George Carlson. “I think he’ll be excellent.” Dr. Carlson explained that Dr. Kavanaugh studies the electrical signals between neurons, which is a very important aspect of any neurological disease. “His work with electrophysiology, which records neuron activity in the brain, brings a new strength to the Institute,” he said.

    Dr. Kavanaugh’s research is focused on expanding the understanding of signaling processes in both healthy and diseased brains, with the goal of providing new approaches to treat neurodegenerative diseases, stroke, and brain injury.

    “I see the addition of my work to the Institute as expanding on the research that has been going on there for a long time,” Dr. Kavanaugh said.

    “I want to say how happy I am to be joining the McLaughlin Research Institute as director,” he said, “and how grateful I am to George Carlson for his stewardship over the past 28 years. He set a high standard of scientific rigor at MRI, and maintaining that is my top priority for the future. Next is making sure that the very talented scientists and staff of the Institute have the resources necessary to fulfill our research mission. This is an extraordinary time in the history of brain research – advances in neurophysiology, imaging, and genetics are providing scientists and physicians with exciting new tools and approaches to understand and cure neurological diseases.”

    Dr. Kavanaugh came to the University of Montana in 2003 from the Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine, where he had been on the faculty for a decade. Before that, he received a PhD in Biochemistry from OHSU and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Vollum Institute there. He did his undergraduate studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He has served on Neuroscience, Biophysics and Fellowship Review panels for the National Institutes of Health and is the recipient of neuroscience research awards, including a Klingenstein Fellowship and a senior Wellcome Fellowship from Oxford University.

    “In addition to its mission in research,” Dr. Kavanaugh said of MRI, “the Institute has a longstanding tradition of mentoring and encouraging young people by providing opportunities to get hands-on experience in science. Some of the eminent researchers on our Scientific Advisory Committee were influenced by their early experiences at MRI, and I want to continue and even expand our programs in outreach, and explore possibilities for partnerships with the University system and hospitals throughout the state.

    I’m gratified to have the confidence and support of a dedicated and talented Board of Directors. I also feel very lucky to be able to rely on the advice of an extraordinary Scientific Advisory Committee – a group of truly visionary scientific leaders. The next 60 years of MRI is going to be a great journey.” McLaughlin celebrated its 60th anniversary last year.

    Dr. Kavanaugh’s lab studies how electrical signaling in the brain is controlled by small molecules called neurotransmitters. This process underlies all basic brain functions including cognition and memory. His research focuses on the neurotransmitter glutamate, whose release and reuptake by neurons is involved in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and the brain damage caused by stroke.

    Dr. Kavanaugh’s group was the first to identify the human genes encoding glutamate transporters, and to determine how these reuptake proteins work. Other studies in his lab are focused on novel neurotransmitters that may play important roles in learning and memory. His group has recently identified a protein in the brain mediating selective reuptake of the neurotransmitter D-serine; recent findings suggest that mutant forms of this protein cause neurodevelopmental delays in children.

    Dr. Irving Weissman of Stanford University’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine is chair of MRI’s Scientific Advisory Committee. “Mike Kavanaugh brings to the McLaughlin Research Institute not only a first class research program in neurobiology—how brain cells communicate—but also a commitment to community service and making opportunities for young Montanans in high school and college to learn how information is obtained by becoming experimental scientists,” he said.

    Dr. Kavanaugh is no stranger to Great Falls; his wife, Larkin Bates Kavanaugh, grew up in Great Falls. Her father is Leonard Bates and her mother is Janice Driver. The Kavanaughs have two sons. Dr. Kavanaugh will maintain an appointment as professor at UM. He is an avid outdoorsman and enjoys mountaineering, skiing and fly-fishing.

    Randy Gray is chair of McLaughlin’s Board of Directors. “It’s terrific to have a succession plan in place with Mike at the helm,” he said. “He’s such a capable guy, who I believe will be able to open new doors for MRI to partner with other institutions and usher us into an exciting new era.”

  8. McLaughlin Research Director Leaving for UCSF

    October 5, 2016 by admin

    Original Article: McLaughlin Research director leaving for California lab, Peter Johnson, Great Falls Tribune, October 1, 2016


    George Carlson, longtime director and senior researcher at McLaughlin Research Institute, is resigning both posts at the end of the year.

    Carlson, who had been leading the small but respected Great Falls biomedical research center since 1988, announced he will join the faculty at the University of California, San Francisco’s Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases. Carlson’s longtime collaborator, Nobel Prize laureate Stanley Prusiner is director of the institute.

    “Dr. Carlson brings an unprecedented set of skills in mouse genetics and mouse models of neurodegenerative diseases — models that play an extraordinarily important role in the discovery of new drugs for treating these diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases,” Prusiner said in a news release. “His expertise will add a great deal to our program. We are all thrilled that he has decided to bring his many talents to the study of these devastating diseases, for which there are currently no effective treatments.”

    “It’s an exciting place,” Dr. Carlson said of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases. “The research is at a point where it’s entirely likely a cure is in sight, and they have the intellectual and physical resources to find it.” UCSF is one of the top biomedical research universities in the world.

    In a Tribune interview, Carlson said he will miss Great Falls and his work at McLaughlin.

    “I have friends here and have enjoyed the area’s natural beauty and fly fishing,” he said, stressing he will help McLaughlin with its transition new leadership, serve on its Scientific Advisory Committee and support efforts to pass and implement Montana Initiative 181.

    If approved by Montana voters, the initiative authorizes the state to buy $20 million in bonds for 10 years to provide grants to develop therapies and cures for brain diseases and injuries and mental illness.
    George Carlson, director of McLaughlin Research InstituteBuy Photo

    “I’m not going away,” he said, leaving the door open for future collaborations between himself and MRI scientists.

    Click here to read the full article

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