Kevin Francis, PhD, Lab

 Milanovich Lab

Primary Research Focus

Dr. Francis Bio

Using cellular and animal models which enable us to dissect cell-specific and time-dependent cellular mechanisms, we are resolving the functional and developmental consequences of molecular interactions to better understand how genetic changes result in disease initiation and progression. Research in the Francis lab primarily takes advantage of the process of cellular reprogramming to generate induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from patients exhibiting rare diseases, allowing us to model these diseases, identify cellular phenotypes, and delineate disease mechanisms in the laboratory. Using a variety of technical approaches, our goals are to define the cellular mechanisms underlying rare diseases resulting from various genetic mutations, identifying signaling pathways and targets amenable to patient therapy.

Sam Milanovich
  • Assistant scientist in the Children's Health Research Center
  • Assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota
  • Bachelor of Science in biology at Marshall University, Huntington, WV
  • Master of Science in anatomy at the University of Georgia, Athens, GA
  • Doctorate in neuropathology at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC
  • Postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Bethesda, MD

Sanford Research - Weimer Lab

Behind the research

Dr. Francis’ current research projects are focused on rare pediatric disorders of cholesterol synthesis and trafficking. Using genetic mouse models and iPSCs derived from patients diagnosed with these rare disorders, we are examining how cholesterol and cholesterol precursors interact with developmentally critical signaling pathways, such as the Wnt and Sonic Hedgehog signaling pathways, to affect neural development, cellular function and disease pathogenesis. A wide array of experimental techniques is utilized within the laboratory including non-integrating cellular reprogramming methods of various cell types, immunocytochemistry, whole genomic sequencing, high-throughput screening methods and standard molecular biology and biochemical assays.

A number of ongoing collaborations with researchers at Sanford Research, USD, and SDSU, as well as external collaborators at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, University of Illinois at Chicago and Sanford-Burnham-Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, are harnessing the power of reprogramming technology for the study of other rare disorders affecting neurodevelopment and function. These projects and others are also delving into basic biological questions regarding how lipid metabolism regulates normal developmental processes and cellular function.


Mechanisms underlying neural phenotypers of cholesterol synthesis disorder

Access Dr. Francis' publications here.
Meet members of the Francis lab here.
Positions Available Contact Us
Join a dedicated team of researchers and help shape the future of pediatric rare disease research. See open positions here. Phone: (605) 312-6422


Lab News

February 2017, Kevin Francis, PhD, was invited to give a research seminar to students and faculty at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, SD. The title of his seminar was "Stem cell models of neurodevelopment: New hope for rare disease".

February 2017, Kevin Francis, PhD, presented an invited workshop titled "Modeling rare neurological disorders with reprogrammed stem cells" to students and faculty at the Center for Brain and Behavior Research at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.

October 2016, Dr. Francis gave a research presentation entitled "Stem cell research and therapies: Fact vs Fiction" at the 2016 SD Chapter meeting of the American Academy of Professional Coders in Sioux Falls, SD.

May 2016, Dr. Kevin Francis was recently invited to present at the UND Better Brains Symposium in Grand Forks. Dr. Francis presented on his induced pluripotent stem cell research at this symposium which was sponsored by the University of North Dakota School of Medicine Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) for Epigenomics of Development and Disease.

April 2016, “Dr. Francis was first author on a research article published in the April edition of Nature Medicine. The article is titled “Modeling Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome with induced pluripotent stem cells reveals a causal role for Wnt/?-catenin defects in neuronal cholesterol synthesis phenotypes”. This highly significant article was highlighted by the journal with a preview article and multiple social media highlights.

News Archive.