The magazine of the UW School of Public Health

Research in the Rockies: The Rocky Mountain Laboratories

At the turn of the twentieth century, Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) comprised a few researchers working in scattered tents. Today, it is a vital research campus in small-town Hamilton, Montana, employing some 250 people.

RML scientists came to national prominence in the early 1900s, when they proved that the bacterial agent of Rocky Mountain spotted fever could be transmitted from wood ticks to humans. Today, some of the most skilled scientists in the world are working at the labs to unveil the mysteries behind a range of infectious diseases, including illnesses linked to prion proteins: mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease in big-game animals, and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in humans.

Significant discoveries made by RML scientists over the years include identifying the causative agents of Q fever and Lyme disease. During World War II, RML scientists also helped produce vaccines to protect soldiers against spotted fever, yellow fever, and typhus.

As part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a component of the National Institutes of Health, RML's primary mission is to help develop new and improved medical tools to diagnose, treat, and vaccinate people to protect them from infectious diseases.

RML is organized much like a small college. Its activities are centered in three main laboratories: the Laboratory of Human Bacterial Pathogenesis, the Laboratory of Intracellular Parasites, and the Laboratory of Persistent Viral Diseases. RML also has the Rocky Mountain Veterinary Branch and the Administrative and Facilities Management Section, both of which support the research functions.

For more information about the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, visit their Web site at