MISSOULA – The McLaughlin Research Institute has named University of Montana Professor Michael Kavanaugh, director of UM’s Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience, as its new director. Kavanaugh will begin his duties at the institute in December.
“Mike’s scientific expertise, energy and desire will make for a powerful leader of this long-historied Montana science institution,” said Leroy Hood, longtime member of McLaughlin’s Scientific Advisory Committee.
UM’s Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience and Kavanaugh have partnered with McLaughlin for several years. He attends annual science workshops at MRI and has presented his own research there.
Kavanaugh replaces outgoing director George Carlson, who is particularly excited about Kavanaugh’s expertise.
“I think he’ll be excellent,” Carlson said. “His work with electrophysiology, which records neuron activity in the brain, brings a new strength to the institute.”
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.
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.
“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,” Kavanaugh said.
“I want to say how happy I am to be joining the McLaughlin Research Institute as director, 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,” he said.
Kavanaugh came to UM in 2003 from the Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine, where he was a faculty member for a decade. Before that, he received a Ph.D. in biochemistry from OHSU where he served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Vollum Institute.
He did his undergraduate studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Kavanaugh has served on neuroscience, biophysics and fellowship review panels for the National Institutes of Health and is the recipient of a number of research awards, including a Klingenstein Fellowship in Neuroscience and a senior Wellcome Fellowship from Oxford University.
Kavanaugh plans to continue MRI’s longstanding tradition of mentoring and encouraging young people through hands-on science opportunities.
“Mike 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,” said Irving Weissman, MRI’s Scientific Advisory Committee chair and director of Stanford University’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.
Kavanaugh will maintain his research laboratory and appointment as professor at UM.