Montana State University

MSU Distinguished Professor to deliver public lecture on genetic neurological disease

March 15, 2017 -- MSU News Service

Frances Lefcort, Letters and Science Distinguished Professor at Montana State University, will give her inaugural lecture at 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 4 at MSU. The lecture, "Why Do Neurons Die in Familial Dysautonomia and Can We Rescue Them?" is free and open to the public.

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BOZEMAN -- Frances Lefcort, who was recently named Letters and Science Distinguished Professor at Montana State University, will give her inaugural lecture at 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, in MSU’s Procrastinator Theater in the Strand Union Building. Lefcort’s lecture, "Why Do Neurons Die in Familial Dysautonomia and Can We Rescue Them?" is free and open to the public. Following the lecture, the MSU College of Letters and Science will host a reception in the Leigh Lounge.

Lefcort, a professor in MSU’s Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, is a researcher of national and international stature due to her seminal contributions in the field of nervous system developmental biology. She studies how embryonic progenitor cells, particularly the neural crest, multiply, migrate and differentiate into the myriad of specific cell types found in adults.

Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS are debilitating because key populations of neurons (nerve cells) die, and without them, nervous systems do not function properly. Lefcort's lab studies a much less common, but no less devastating, neurological disease called familial dysautonomia, a genetic disease that devastates the sensory and autonomic nervous systems.

Researchers in Lefcort’s lab are trying to understand why neurons die from familial dysautonomia. If they can answer this question, they can develop therapeutic strategies to try to prevent neuronal death. 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. Their goal is to apply what they learn from studying familial dysautonomia to treating the most prevalent neurological disorders that plague humans.

Lefcort has published more than 35 articles in the most prestigious peer-reviewed journals in her field, including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Nature Neuroscience and Nature Communications. Since 1995, the National Institutes of Health has continually funded her work.

In 2010, Lefcort received the MSU Wiley Award for Meritorious Research. She was a speaker for the Provost's Distinguished Lecturer Series in 2013. And, 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.

Lefcort was appointed as Letters and Science Distinguished Professor in October in recognition of her contributions to the college, MSU and the scholarly community. The three-year appointment is the highest honor MSU’s College of Letters and Science bestows upon a faculty member in the college.

Contact: Jody Sanford, College of Letters and Science, jody.sanford@montana.edu or (406) 994-7791.

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