Frances Lefcort

Frances Lefcort

Frances Lefcort, a professor of cell biology and neuroscience in Montana State University’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology who is known for groundbreaking research in neural development and neurological disease, has been appointed as a Letters and Science Distinguished Professor, the highest honor MSU’s College of Letters and Science bestows upon a faculty member in the college.

She received the three-year appointment in recognition of her contributions to the college, MSU and the scholarly community.

Lefcort is a researcher of national and international stature due to her seminal contributions in the field of nervous system developmental biology. She studies how stem-like “mother” or progenitor cells multiply, migrate and differentiate into the myriad of specific cell types found in the mature nervous system.

In recent years, her work has focused on the genetic disease, familial dysautonomia, which devastates the sensory and autonomic nervous systems. Lefcort's lab has successfully created several animal models of this disease, which will allow scientists to test a variety of drugs to treat the disease in humans. She has published more than 35 articles in some of the most prestigious peer-reviewed journals in her field, including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature Neuroscience and Nature Communications. Her work has been continually funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1995.

Lefcort will give a public lecture about her research during the 2017 spring semester.

“I am honored to receive this award and grateful for the support I have received from MSU to conduct my research,” Lefcort said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the undergraduates and graduate students in my lab and we wouldn't have achieved what we have done without them.”

Lefcort came to MSU in 1994 as an assistant professor. She earned her Ph.D. in neurobiology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1988, which was followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. She has also been an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Biological Structure at the University of Washington School of Medicine since 1995, and was a visiting professor at the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy, in 2010. She served as the head of Cell Biology and Neuroscience from 2012 to 2016, and was the co-founder and interim director of the Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery at MSU.

In addition to being an outstanding researcher, Lefcort excels in the classroom, where she teaches courses on neural development and neuroscience to both undergraduates and graduate students. She also chaired and taught the WWAMI medical nervous system course for 15 years, integrating into the course cutting-edge science gained through her own medically relevant research. She consistently receives excellent teaching evaluations.

Lefcort has demonstrated she is committed to training the next generation of scholars, scientists and medical professionals by personally training and mentoring more than 40 individuals in her lab, including high school students, undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

In 2010, she received the MSU Wiley Award for Meritorious Research and was a speaker for the Provost's Distinguished Lecturer Series in 2013. In 2015, she received the Hero Award from the Montana chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health in recognition of her efforts to improve the lives of Montanans who live with serious mental illness.

"Dr. Lefcort is an outstanding scientist whose scholarly achievements have brought international recognition to the college," said Nicol Rae, dean of the College of Letters and Science. "We are delighted to honor her scholarship with this award."