Montana State University

Cooley Lab Renovation Advances L&S Biomedical Research

October 12, 2012 -- Excerpted from Sepp Jannotta, MSU News Service

An architectural rendering of a renovated
Cooley Laboratory.
Completed renovation of Cooley Laboratory.
MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

In September 2012, a $17 million renovation of MSU’s Cooley Lab was completed. This project, which transformed the 52-year-old building into a state-of-the-art research facility, will help advance one of the university’s major strengths: biomedical research. Of the $100 million MSU wins annually in competitive grants for research, roughly $40 million of that goes to studying everything from influenza, to heart disease, to using parts of viruses for pinpoint delivery of drugs, to preventing infectious diseases, to developing safeguards against bioterrorist attacks.

The facility, which was completely gutted and renovated over the past two years, will house research teams from two departments in the College of Letters and Science, microbiology and cell biology and neuroscience. Most of the work was paid for with a $14.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“This state-of-the-art facility is a great asset for MSU’s biomedical research community and the university as a whole,” said Mark Jutila, head of the Department of Microbiology. “But the real excitement comes as we move forward in these labs with our research addressing infectious diseases and other public health questions.”

The renovated laboratory space will likely spur a burst of new research for students and faculty, said Tom McCoy, vice president of research. “We have ample evidence that when we provide modern, quality laboratory space, great success follows for our students and faculty,” McCoy said.

In 2007, MSU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry moved out of its antiquated home in Gaines Hall and into the new Chemistry and Biochemistry Building. Its success in grant awards jumped 71 percent, from $4.5 million in FY06 to $7.7 million in FY07. In FY12, chemistry and biochemistry brought in nearly $10.6 million in research grants.

Mike Franklin, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, has a multi-year grant from the NIH to study the molecular genetics of the medically and environmentally significant microbe Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that causes lung infections in patients with cystic fibrosis. Bacterial infections associated with surfaces, including pulmonary tissue or artificial implant devices, are often resistant to antibiotic treatment. Resistance may occur because a dormant cell subpopulation repopulates the infection following treatment. Franklin’s research examines the role of a stress response protein that allows the bacteria to survive prolonged dormancy and resuscitate into pulmonary biofilms.

Frances Lefcort, professor and department head in the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, studies how pain-sensing neurons are born and mature. These neurons are essential for life as protection against noxious stimuli that could harm human health. She is applying knowledge gleaned from investigating normal neuronal development to understanding the causes of the devastating peripheral neuropathy, Familial Dysautonomia. People with the disease typically die within the first few years of life because of a failure in their autonomic nervous system. With a grant from the NIH, her lab has generated a mouse model of this human disease. Using the model, her goal is to develop treatments for the human disorder and gain insights into the degenerative mechanisms causing this and other neurological disorders.

Sandra Halonen, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, studies the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), a ubiquitous parasite infecting approximately 50 percent of the population worldwide. In healthy hosts, the parasite establishes a chronic, lifelong infection in the brain that is typically asymptomatic. However, recent evidence indicates the chronic infection in some healthy individuals is associated with development of neurological disorders such as schizophrenia, cryptogenic epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. T. gondii can also cause severe neurological complications for fetuses and newborns, and is a major opportunistic infection in the central nervous system in immunosuppressed patients. Halonen’s research studies the interactions of T. gondii with their host cells (neurons, astrocytes and microglia) in the central nervous system and the immune response in the brain to these parasites.

Seth Walk, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology, leads an NIH-funded laboratory that studies the ecology of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). His research utilizes global analysis tools, including metagenomics and metabolomics, to identify the qualities of GIT microorganisms that influence complex diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease and Clostridium difficile infection. Another focus of his laboratory is the epidemiology of pathogens that circulate in hospitals and other healthcare settings, such as Klebsiella pneumoniae and Escherichia coli. The research approach in the Walk lab is “translational,” where the goal is to make discoveries that can be translated into novel treatment and prevention strategies for patients.

Updated: 06/19/2013