Below is the official Pennington Biomedical Research Center timeline. Click on a era to explore significant historical details and events of the Center.
Claude Bernard Pennington is born in Chunky, Mississippi on March 30.
Claude B. Pennington and Irene Wells are married.
C.B. “Doc” Pennington, Baton Rouge Optometrist decides to change careers, turning to the oil business.
Doc goes independent, striking his first oil well in Lobdell Field near Baton Rouge.
Called by the Chicago Tribune “the best real estate transaction since Peter Minuit bought Manhattan Island from the Indians in 1624 for $24 in beads, trinkets and cloth,” Doc acquires 2,000 acres of land near Port Hudson called Mt. Pleasant Plantation. Pennington had approached the owner, 93-year-old Edward Eagle Brown, chairman of the board of the First Chicago Bank, proposing to lease the land. Brown refused, offering instead to sell. Reportedly, when Pennington responded that he did not have the money, $400,000, Brown himself lent Doc the full purchase price.
August 16: Doc’s only son, Claude Bernard Pennington, Jr., dies in an oilfield accident, leaving a young wife, Peggy, and three children: Paula, Claude, III, and Daryl.
Amoco, leasing the acreage from Doc Pennington, strikes pay dirt, hitting the “Tuscaloosa Trend” in Port Hudson field.
LSU Board of Supervisor’s member, Billy Brown, tells Allen A. Copping, D.D.S., chancellor of the Louisiana State Medical Center, that Doc Pennington is considering a large gift to an educational institution. Dr. Copping visits Doc Pennington and suggests a nutritional center.
At age 80, Doc Pennington and his wife, Irene W. Pennington, pledge $125 million to Louisiana State University, which at the time is the largest single gift to an institution of higher learning. Pennington cites his travels to underdeveloped nations and witness of malnourished children as reason to focus on nutrition.
Pennington creates the Pennington Medical Foundation to serve as trustee of the gift. David Treen is governor of Louisiana. Dr. Copping begins discussions with Doc to define the exact purpose and nature of how the gift will be used. The Board of Trustees of the Pennington Medical Foundation holds their first meeting.
Louisiana State University Medical Center awards Doc an honorary Doctor of Science degree. (See note on additional honorary degree under 1991)
April 21: Allen Copping, David Treen, Doc and Irene Pennington, Board of Supervisors Chairman Sheldon D. Beychok, and the immediate past president of the LSU system, Dr. Martin D. Woodin, symbolically break ground on what Pennington calls “the country’s biggest and best nutrition and preventive medicine center.”
LSU provides land for the site. Called the Quail Farm and used by the poultry science and agronomy departments, the land is occupied by experimental cotton and soy fields, and large chicken coops.
Actual construction of the Center begins.
March: Allen Copping, D.D.S., becomes the new president of the LSU System
The new research center is completed, located on 234 acres and consisting of five buildings that total 223,000 square feet and include an administrative building, inpatient and outpatient clinics, a basic laboratory wing, an animal care facility, and a physical plant. The search for a director begins with ads in Nature, Science and the Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as 500 to 600 letters to universities. The center sits vacant for two years as LSU struggles in a broken oil economy to find funds to operate the center. The center is officially part of the Louisiana State University Medical Center. A search committee chaired by Perry Rigby, M.D., then chancellor of the LSU Medical Center begins to look for a permanent director of the Center. Doug Braymer, Ph.D., vice chancellor of academic affairs for the LSU System, is secretary to the search committee. He and others begin to acquaint the community with the physical facilities of the Center.
U.S. Senator Bennett Johnston and Congresswoman Lindy Boggs help guide a funding request through the halls of Washington, resulting in the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarding a grant of $9.4 million for the purchase of equipment to outfit the first labs. The grant proposal was prepared by Bill Pryor, Ph.D., Ron Montelaro, and Doug Braymer, Ph.D. Bill Silvia, a vice president for administration and finance within the LSU System, secures, perhaps, the first air photo of the Center to use as a cover photo for the grant proposal.
August: Baton Rouge business leaders form the Pennington Biomedical Research Foundation to solicit further private donations. In addition, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation provides critical funds when it commits about a third of its total resources, primarily to provide a sufficient salary to hire the Center’s first executive director.
March: Governor Buddy Roemer announces to Rotary Club of Baton Rouge that LSU Boyd Professor William Pryor, of the LSU Chemistry and Biochemistry departments, is interim director of the Center and announces the Center will be open in “60 to 90 days.” He promises state support . Pryor subsequently names Bill Silvia to associate director of the Center, a role he will play while continuing as LSU System vice president.
May: With an assortment of funding from the Louisiana Public Facilities Authority, the U.S. Department of Defense, and individual and corporate gifts, Daniel Hwang, Ph.D., Dan Church, Ph. D., Chandan Prasad, Ph.D., and Wayne Vedeckis, Ph.D. begin moving in from other LSU system campuses to become the first researchers at the Center.
November: After a two-year recruitment effort, George Bray, M.D., an internationally known specialist in obesity, diabetes and metabolism at the University of Southern California, is appointed the Center’s first executive director on Nov. 11. A grant from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation guarantees his salary, and he tours the Center in late November, marking the fact that the Center is open and operational.
Donna Ryan, M.D., is appointed as the Center’s first Associate Executive Director for Clinical Research and joins the Center to create and lead its first clinical research efforts.
Senator Bennett Johnston and U.S. Congress members Richard Baker, Bob Livingston and Lindy Boggs, shepherd an additional funding request, resulting in a $3.5 million research agreement with the U.S. Army through its U.S. Military Nutrition Programs.
David York, Ph.D., becomes the Center’s first head of basic research, leading the Experimental Obesity Research Program.
The Center publishes its first newsletter, the Pennington News.
Dr. Bray announces the first clinical research team, led by Dr. Donna Ryan.
The design and construction of a conference center complex and a 17-acre lake are announced by the Pennington Medical Foundation.
The Louisiana Legislature commits to a $5 million annual appropriation for operations.
The PBRF receives sufficient funds to create the Center's first endowed chair, the Claude B. Pennington, Jr Chair.
May 17, 18: The first of ten meetings called “Frontiers in Nutrition” is held at the Center. The meetings eventually result in a 10-volume set of the collective presentations entitled Pennington Center Nutrition Series, published by LSU Press.
June: Operating as a branch of the LSU Medical Center Library in New Orleans, PBRC’s Library and Information Center opens in the Administration building.
Dr. Bray requests that LSU system president Allen Copping remove the research facility from the Louisiana State Medical Center and allow it to stand as a separate center of the LSU system. That request is granted, PBRC became a separate campus of the LSU System in fiscal year 1990-91, and Dr. Bray’s position as executive director is granted the same status as chancellor.
January: Pennington News becomes Inside Pennington
May 16: LSU (Baton Rouge) awards C.B. “Doc” Pennington Honorary Doctor of Science.
The Center’s staff tops 100 (161 scientists and staff) and undertakes the first human trials, opening the clinical side of the Center’s research with a U.S. Army grant to study the effects of diet on soldiers’ performance.
The Centers’ first clinical volunteers enroll in an investigation of the effects of dietary patterns in overweight women. The trial is under the direction of LSU professor of psychology, Dr. Don Williamson, and his graduate student, Candy Lawson. The study examines the effects of eating habits on body weight and metabolism. Collaborators are Columbia University, the University of Minnesota and Pennsylvania State University.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides a five-year grant to study dietary fat and human disease.
The Pennington Medical Foundation provides funding to build a Metabolic Kitchen and Whole-Room Indirect Calorimeters.
Volume One in the Pennington Center Nutrition Series is published.
Pennington Biomedical Research Center is selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to participate in a multi-center study, along with Columbia University, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Minnesota, to examine the effects of diet on risk factors for heart disease.
The Pennington Medical Foundation begins construction of the C.B. Claude Pennington, Jr. Nutrition Conference and Education Center.
The Center publishes its first scientific report, called the Annual Report and convenes its first external advisory committee composed of leading experts across the country.
The Center receives its first pharmaceutical research grant.
The first professorship, the Douglas L. Manship Professorship, is created
April: Mary Ann Stipe, Peggy Jenkins and Mitzi Bray form the Pennington Center Docents to allow the general public to take tours and learn of the center.
The Center’s first major expansion, 93,000 square feet financed by the Pennington Medical Foundation, is completed. The three buildings are the C.B. Claude Pennington, Jr. Nutrition Conference and Education Center, a guest lodge and an exercise research facility. They line the bank of a newly constructed lake.
NASA funds a study of the role that nutrition and metabolism may play in preventing bone and muscle loss during long-term space flight.
NIH selects the Pennington Center along with Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, and Harvard University to study the effect of diet on reducing or preventing high blood pressure. It is called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) trial.
The U.S. Dairy Council names PBRC a Nutrition Institute
The National Dairy Council awards funding for studies of dietary fat, genetics, and heart disease.
Center employment totals 269 scientists and support staff
The Nutrient Data Base Conference and North American Association for the Study of Obesity (NAASO) hold their annual meetings in the new conference and education center. NAASO is the premier organization in the country for the study of obesity.
U.S. Department of Agriculture funds a multi-center nutrition intervention study of the rural Mississippi River delta regions of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. It is called The Lower Mississippi River Delta Nutrition and Health Initiative.
The Transgenic Laboratory is completed through funds provided by Pennington Medical Foundation.
March 9: The Center holds its first open house “Pennington Preview” in the C.B. Pennington, Jr. Conference Center with scientific displays of all center work.
Center employment totals 350 scientists and staff. Total funding exceeds $15 million.
April 17: Results from the NIH-funded study on diet and high blood pressure are published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The DASH Diet results are published and conclude the diet significantly lowers blood pressure.
NIH selects the Center to participate in a second study of dietary patterns and blood pressure with Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, and Duke University.
The National Dairy Council awards a second grant for continued studies of dietary fat, genetics, and heart disease.
August 7: C.B. “Doc” Pennington, the Center’s benefactor, passes away. He was 97.
The Center publishes a 10th anniversary edition of Inside Pennington, charting a decade of milestones.
An extension of the Comparative Biology building, including a new “barrier” facility and the Transgenic Laboratory is funded, constructed, completed.
PBRC goes live with its website, www.pbrc.edu. Among other benefits, the website improves recruiting for clinic and postdoc programs.
March: PBRC holds an open house to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its opening.
January: After ten years on the job, the center’s first executive director, Dr. George Bray, announces he is stepping aside to resume full-time research at the Center.
Total grants from NIH reach $5.5 million and for the first time exceed state appropriations.
Allen Copping, D.D.S., who played a key role in creating the Center, steps down as LSU System president. William Jenkins, Ph.D., succeeds him.
August: Claude Bouchard, Ph.D., of the Université Laval in Quebec, becomes the center’s second executive director and occupies the George A. Bray chair in Nutrition. He develops an agenda for growth, and begins work on the Center’s first strategic plan. The center’s first executive director, Dr. George Bray, takes a position as full-time faculty member and is appointed Boyd Professor.
The Board of Regents awards a five-year, $6 million grant to Drs. David York and Leslie Kozak to discover genes associated with obesity.
Pelican Press publishes The Pennington Cookbook – The Art of Taste, The Science of Nutrition. Chef Kelly Patrick Williams, nutritionist at the Center, is the author.
Dr. Bouchard releases Vision 2005, the Center’s first 5-year strategic plan, calling for a doubling in the budget, faculty and staff, including new construction to accommodate the expansion.
The LSU Board of Supervisors approves plans for a new 180,000 square foot Basic Science Laboratory Building and an 80,000 square foot Clinical Science Building as part of Vision 2005. The Pennington Medical Foundation provides bond funding for the new facilities.
The Center and its 26 partners in the NIH-funded Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) announce that at least 10 million Americans at high risk for type 2 Diabetes can sharply lower their chances of getting the disease through improved diet and exercise.
July: Ground is broken on new Basic Science Laboratory Building.
The NIH awards a seven-year, $12.4 million grant to study the possible benefits to aging of a long-term reduction of calories. The grant is awarded to Eric Ravussin, PH.D., and is the largest NIH grant in the Center’s 14 year history.
The Division of Education is created to accompany the research divisions, with Phillip Brantley, Ph.D., as director. The existing research divisions include Nutrition and Chronic Diseases, Health and Performance Enhancement, Obesity, and Functional Foods.
Planning begins on the first in a series of international scientific symposia.
Growing clinical research necessitates use of trailers for temporary office space located on the upper parking deck.
In the Center’s first economic “spin-off,” Pennington Discoveries, Inc., an investment arm of the Pennington Biomedical Research Foundation, partners with a Swedish corporation to form Pennington Management of Clinical Trials (PMCT). The company specializes in the planning, participant recruitment, implementation and management of multi-center clinical trials.
Louisiana Public Broadcasting, with a grant from the Reilly Family Foundation, produces “Kids: Trying to Trim Down” a program on the work of Center researcher Melinda Sothern, Ph.D., with obese children. The program is seen hundreds of times nationally as local public television stations request it.
January: Paula Pennington de la Bretonne, Doc’s granddaughter, is named Chairman of the Board of the Pennington Medical Foundation.
July 17: Irene Pennington, Doc’s wife, passes away. She was 104 years old (1898-2003).
January: A 187,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art Basic Science Laboratory building opens.
February: NuPotential is formed as a limited liability company and begins operations in PBRC. The company, founded by Dr. Ken Eilertsen of the Center, produces reprogrammed cell lines. Cell reprogramming restores an existing cell to a state where it can differentiate into a new cell type. Reprogrammed cell lines will be used to develop therapies for such afflictions as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, stroke, and other degenerative diseases.
September: Needing more clinical research space, the Center, utilizing funds from the Pennington Medical Foundation, begins plans to renovate the C.B. Pennington, Jr. Nutrition Conference and Education Center to add space for population research studies and to convert meeting space to permanent research space.
PBRC and the USDA sign a working agreement to begin USDA research on campus. This is regarded as the first step toward a broader partnership between the USDA and PBRC.
October: Louisiana Public Television, following the success of its first program, produces a six-part series entitled “Step by Step, Kids trimming down” which again features work by Center researchers. The Reilly Family Foundation is the sole underwriter of the series.
January: Both Nature and Science in the same month feature manuscripts by Center researchers.
The Center releases Vision 2010, a five-year strategic plan presenting the Center’s goal to be “the leading nutrition and preventive medicine research center.” The plan calls for continued significant growth, including a new $25 million clinical research building.
March: The Center establishes a new research division “Nutrition and the Brain” to be led by Richard Rogers, Ph.D.
April: William Cefalu, M.D., leads a team to win PBRC’s first NIH Center Grant to establish a Center of Excellence in Botanicals and Metabolic Syndrome. In partnership with Rutgers University, the center is to focus on clinical and basic research into the conditions that lead to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes and to determine whether plant extracts can effectively treat those conditions. A related grant from the Coypu Foundation allows the center to create its first named laboratory: The John S. McIlhenny Laboratory of Botanical Research.
July: Eric Ravussin, Ph.D., leads a team to win PBRC’s second NIH Center Grant to establish a NIH-NIDDK Clinical Nutrition Research Unit to focus on prenatal causes of obesity. The theme is “Nutritional Programming: Environmental and Molecular Interactions”.
August: The Center, in cooperation with the LSU Health Science Center, confers its first honorary doctorate (Honoris Causa Doctorate) to Douglas Coleman, Ph.D. for his groundbreaking research on obese and diabetic mice, which led to the discovery of leptin and its critical role in hunger and satiety.
September: Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans causes a temporary relocation of the LSU Health Science Center. Both classroom and research units of the LSU Medical School, Dental School and School of Allied Health move to PBRC, doubling the campus population with an influx of nearly 650 students and faculty.
A grant from center researcher Willam Hansel, PhD., and his nephew, Edward Downey, create the Center’s second named laboratory; The William Hansel Laboratory of Cancer Prevention.
December: PBRC leaders and investors establish the first venture capital fund to finance development of early-stage Center discoveries. Called Themelios, the fund is established with a $10 million initial investment from the Pennington Family Foundation.
William Silvia one of the LSU System leaders who helped open and manage the Center in its formative years, leaves his position as Executive Vice President in the LSU System office to assume a new role as Chief Financial Officer of the Pennington Medical Foundation and special adviser to PBRC executive director Claude Bouchard. His initial role is to craft the Center’s first request to the state legislature for $25 million for new construction, to be used for a new clinical research building.
The Center Hosts the first international symposium on infectious obesity, the theory that a virus may cause some human obesity. The symposium is led by Center researcher Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar, the first scientist to pose the theory, and the founder of the field of research he dubs “infectobesity.”
Portions of the former conference center are renovated, a new wing is, and the name is changed to the Claude B. Pennington, Jr. Building. Researchers begin to move into what will now be the new home of the Center’s growing Population Science effort.
September: NIH awards a grant to establish a Center for Excellence in Biologic Research Education (COBRE)
The Center formalizes its already diverse Population Science research by establishing a new leadership position: Associate Executive Director of Population Science, and hiring Peter Katzmarzyk, Ph.D., to fill that role.
The Center is successful in its first ever request for state allocated construction funds. The legislature approves $21 of million for construction of a new clinical facility.
Two outstanding supporters of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center and Foundation are honored and recognized. The executive director conference room is officially named the “John W. Barton, Sr. Conference Room”, while the auditorium in the administrative building is formally named the “Kevin P. Reilly, Sr. Auditorium.” These two gentlemen are acknowledged for their longstanding support, leadership, and devotion to the Center and Foundation.
Private Investors form Esperance Pharmaceuticals, LLP, a company created to license cancer-fighting compounds developed at the Center by Drs. William Hansel and Carola Leuschner in collaboration with researchers at LSU and the LSU AgCenter.
January 21: Kicking off 20th anniversary activities, Dr. Claude Bouchard addresses the Baton Rouge Press Club to announce series of activities, including international conference on obesity, public health conference on childhood obesity and public forum on the role of biotech and the Center on Baton Rouge economy.
March 3,4: PBRC convenes conference on 20 Most Significant Achievements in Obesity Research, Treatment and Prevention. Governor Bobby Jindal announces from the Basic Science Building atrium his call for a special session to allocate more than $1 billion surplus. He recommends $50 million for the Center to complete new clinic building funding, renovation of the existing clinic plus campus improvements, equipment and instrumentation.
March 13: Legislative special session closes with Center’s $50 million package in tact.
December – Dr. Claude Bouchard announces his retirement as of June 2009. He will stay on until LSU System President John Lombardi chooses successor.
January 14: Governor Bobby Jindal, Dr. Claude Bouchard, Paula Pennington de la Bretonne, LSU System President John Lombardi and others break ground on new clinical research building. Actual ground clearing and site preparation is already underway.
April 29: Governor Bobby Jindal, on PBRC’s campus, introduces new executive director, Dr. Steven Heymsfield and announces a $10 million challenge grant to the center as a jobs-creation program. The Center will receive the money by raising $10 million of its own, and using it to create 250 clinical research jobs outside Baton Rouge.
Dr. Steven Heymsfield, formerly of Merck, assumes the role of executive director.
About the Center
Research & Faculty
Training & Education
News & Publications