Somewhere in Louisiana, bison are being tested with a new brucellosis vaccine that’s being developed by Montana State University scientists.

The effort to find a more effective vaccine to prevent the disease that can infect bison, cattle and people is just one of hundreds of ongoing research projects at MSU.

The university reported Thursday that its research spending for the year ending June 30 totaled $102.7 million.

“We’re down about $6 million” from last year’s record of $109.5 million, Tom McCoy, MSU vice president for research, said last week.

“Given the nature of federal funding for research being on the decline, being down just 6 percent is still a very good reflection of the quality of our faculty,” McCoy said.

MSU’s research creates jobs and is a “huge economic benefit” for the Bozeman area, said Mark Quinn, head of MSU’s immunology and infectious diseases department. His department had the highest research spending of any MSU department last year, $9.9 million. It employs more than 100 people in the Molecular Bioscience Building in the Advanced Technology Park, he said.

Research also benefits students, reported Tracy Ellig, MSU news director. Last year, $9.8 million went to pay undergraduate and graduate students’ salaries, benefits, scholarships and fellowships.

There is more good news on the horizon. McCoy said the EPSCoR program at MSU has been notified it will get $4 million a year for five years to focus research on environmental and ecological sciences. MSU, the prime agency, will work jointly with the University of Montana.

“It will benefit the entire state,” McCoy said. “We’re going to build our environmental sciences program. We’re looking at starting an Institute of the Environment…. It’s very exciting.”

McCoy said he is especially proud that several years of negotiation resulted in landing a $65 million, multi-year U.S. Energy Department grant to test storing carbon dioxide in underground rock formations in northern Montana as a way to trap greenhouse gases from coal plants and other polluters. MSU is the lead university on the project, working with other universities and private industry. He called that grant “a huge success.”

Asked if belt-tightening in Congress will hurt federal funding of research, McCoy said there have already been significant reductions in the 2011 federal budget in programs where MSU successfully competes.

“Every university in the country is concerned,” McCoy said. “There’s a lot of effort in trying to alert congressional delegations of all the states of the importance of university research … and trying to maintain it at a stable level.”

After MSU’s immunology and infectious diseases department, the departments with the largest research spending last year were chemistry and biochemistry ($9.4 million), Western Transportation Institute ($8.7 million), physics ($7 million) and land resources and environmental sciences ($5.1 million).

Quinn said scientists are investigating zoonotic diseases, like brucellosis, that can be transmitted from animals to people.

“It’s an area of interest because most new diseases in the world come from animals,” Quinn said.

MSU scientists are collaborating with researchers at Louisiana State University to find a new, more effective brucellosis vaccine, he said. It is being tested outside of Montana because the disease is endemic in the environment here.

Infectious diseases department researchers are also investigating bacteria that cause drug-resistant staph infections, the causes of chronic wasting disease and diseases affecting honey bees. One project is investigating the ways the human body defends itself against infection.

The department also has a large program studying complementary medicines, like the herbal medicines used by Native Americans, to find what makes some of those effective. Another researcher is studying liver diseases and how the liver can regenerate.

“We have really good researchers who spend a lot of time applying for grants, and this is an area of national importance,” Quinn said. “With infectious disease, there are always new diseases emerging.”

Though the department had one congressionally earmarked research grant in the past, he said, currently all its grants are won by competing against other proposals from scientists around the country. Most of his department’s work is funded by the National Institutes of Health, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, American Heart Association and March of Dimes.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 582-2633.

MSU Research Money

Montna State University's departments with the largest research spending during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011.

Department Research Spending
Immunology and Infectious Diseases $9.9 million
Chemistry and Biochemistry $9.4 million
Western Transportation Institute $8.7 million
Physics $7 million
Land Resources and Environmental Sciences $5.1 million