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McLaughlin Research Institute in Great Falls receives $5M donation

Tiffany Hensley-McBain demonstrates a centrifuge in a lab at the McLaughlin Research Institute
Irv Weissman
McLaughlin Research Institute in Great Falls
Posted at 10:41 AM, Oct 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-22 12:36:34-04

GREAT FALLS — The McLaughlin Research Institute (MRI) in Great Falls announced Tuesday that Dr. Irv Weissman and Dr. Ann Tsukamoto-Weissman of Stanford, California, recently made a $5 million gift to the MRI, the largest single contribution in the organization’s history.

Staff at MRI study neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and Huntington’s disease, and neuro-behavioral disorders such as addiction and psychological disorders.

MRI said in a news release that the donation will support the expansion of the MRI, including their high school internship program, recruitment efforts, and current research projects.

“Growing up in Great Falls, I was the first high school intern at the Institute, and my future was shaped by that experience,” said Irv. “For several years after that, the Montana division of the American Cancer Society picked up the funding. Sadly, it lapsed. Ann and I wanted to support the important research happening in Great Falls and help build momentum for the growth and innovation happening at the MRI.”

Ann added, “We have been encouraged and inspired by the recent developments in the organization and staffing under the leadership of Dr. Reijo Pera, and we knew our gift would have a lasting impact.”

Dr. Renee Reijo Pera became director of the McLaughlin Research Institute in March 2021; she was the second faculty member that Dr. Weissman hired as Director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine in 2007.

“I have been a recipient of Irv and Ann’s generosity throughout my career,” says Dr. Reijo Pera. “Now, it is a great privilege to serve as just the fifth director of the MRI in its 67 years of operation. I was grateful to be one of the first faculty members that Irv hired at Stanford, and I am grateful to be a steward of his and Ann’s transformational gift here to the MRI and to Great Falls.”

Irv said, “I return to Montana many times a year and am heartened by the growth of biomedical and stem cell research across the state of Montana, as well as that of the MRI. Back in the 1950s Eichwald and I visited the Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Hamilton, and I still collaborate with them. This was an early example of a distributed research model, which allows for breakthroughs and innovation throughout the network.”

McLaughlin Research Institute chairman Randy Gray said this donation sends an important message: "The business of distributed research, the kind of research that happens here, can happen all over the country and there are very bright young people in Montana. What Irv is really suggesting, and (his wife), is that those young people might want to take a look at a career in this field and there are opportunities right here in Montana to do that."

When asked why the donation was made, board member David Cameron said he believes it was because of a "sincere interest in the quality of research that’s done here…and his history of successes.”

The Cameron family also recently made a large donation to the institute: “So they can do well for their hometown and at the same time lead the way in certain kinds of neurological research."

“The number one thing we want to do is to recruit new scientists,” said Reijo Pera said when asked how she envisions the money helping the institute. “Our overall dream is we’d like to be one of the best scientific research institutes in the United States.”

Tiffany Hensley-McBain is an assistant professor at the institute and says the donation helps give the institute some “breathing room.”

“To explore things scientifically, to build a bigger team, and to have some new faculty members come join us so we can be more collaborative,” Hensley-McBain said.

The McLaughlin Research Institute is located at 1520 23rd Street South. Click here to learn more on the MRI website.