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Pennington Biomedical Research Center chosen for national center of excellence

Released: Thursday, April 07, 2005

BATON ROUGE - The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced today the Pennington Biomedical Research Center has won a nearly eight million-dollar grant to establish a national center of excellence to study the effects of botanical products, or plant extracts, on human health and diseases. The mission of the center will be to evaluate conditions in humans that lead to development of obesity and Type 2 diabetes and to determine whether plant extracts can effectively treat these conditions.

“This is exactly why state and local support are so necessary,” said Claude Bouchard, executive director of the Center. “State and private funding allowed us to recruit, hire and support a key member of our faculty, who has now gained our first center grant from the National Institutes of Health.”

Bouchard indicated that not all grants are equal. Most are granted to individual researchers or research for a finite period of time. This latest grant, he said, is the prime kind - an ongoing, significant grant to develop an entire center of excellence. Although the initial award of $7.49 million is for five years, it is renewable, according to Bouchard, allowing the Center to establish long-term research and explore areas for which more traditional research funding would not be available.

The lead investigator will be Dr. William Cefalu, a native of Amite, Louisiana, who recently returned to the state from the University of Vermont, primarily because of the existence of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. He will head up a collaborative effort of more than 20 scientific investigators to build what NIH calls the Center of Excellence in Botanicals and Metabolic Syndrome.

Cefalu said metabolic syndrome is a collection of maladies, including insulin resistance, obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, that often lead to Type 2 diabetes. Cefalu's new center grant will allow his team to study the effects of specific botanical compounds and their components and how they may influence molecular and cellular processes associated with metabolic syndrome.

In addition to studying botanicals currently known to have some beneficial effects, the center will actively screen hundreds of other compounds in an effort to find components that have favorable effects on metabolic syndrome.

The botanical screening program will be conducted in a new unit called the John S. McIlhenny Laboratory of Botanical Research, which is also housed at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and was created in 2004 through a private gift from the Coypu Foundation and awarded to Dr. Cefalu and collaborating investigators. Thus, the research investigators of the NIH Center of Excellence of Botanicals and Metabolic Syndrome and the John S. McIlhenny Laboratory of Botanical Research will be in a unique position to address nutritional treatment options for metabolic syndrome.

“Metabolic syndrome represents one of the most important public health problems facing our society today as the prevalence is reaching epidemic proportions worldwide,” said Cefalu.

Cefalu and his colleagues will collaborate with the Center of Agriculture and the Environment of Rutgers University and with the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is a campus of the Louisiana State University System and conducts both clinical and basic research. It is the largest academically based nutrition research center in the world, with the greatest number of obesity researchers on faculty. The Center's nearly 600 employees occupy several buildings on the 234-acre campus.

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The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the causes of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. Itis a campus of the Louisiana State University System and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at the Center includes approximately 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 50 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dieticians, and support personnel, and 19 highly specialized core service facilities.  The Center's more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 234-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.