Children's health research to expand, thanks to $1.4 million NIH grant

Released: Tuesday, November 01, 2016

In Louisiana one in two children is considered overweight or obesei, a startling statistic which poses significant health risks to kids as they grow up. Among Louisiana's adults, 36 percent are considered obeseii—a condition which costs the state $3 billion annuallyiii. Obesity puts both kids and adults at risk for developing a host of chronic diseases such as heart disease, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and diabetes. Right now, the Bayou State has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the nation.

Dr. Daniel Hsia, an endocrinologist and assistant professor at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center, is one of the many researchers working persistently to turn those statistics around.

Hsia was recently awarded $1.4 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to expand Pennington Biomedical's pediatric health research. As part of the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program of the NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences,  (NIGMS), the funding is provided to support pediatric research units aimed at investigating how a range of environmental factors in early development – from conception through early childhood—influence the health of children and adolescents.

To try and head off these growing obesity statistics, Pennington Biomedical opened a research clinic solely dedicated to pediatric obesity and diabetes research in 2014. The pediatric clinic, called the Translational Research Clinic for Children (TReCC), has succeeded in helping attract a range of new clinical research opportunities to Baton Rouge. The growth of the TReCC has enabled access to new funding opportunities like the ECHO program which will promote further growth through partnerships and collaboration with partner institutions throughout the state, expanding our collective access to cutting edge research and medicine.

"Research shows that children today are not getting enough physical exercise which puts them at risk for health complications during childhood and later on in life. Chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity are disproportionately impacting Louisiana's children, and Pennington Biomedical is working through research to change that," said Dr. Peter Katzmarzyk, associate executive director of population science at Pennington Biomedical and a co-investigator on the grant.

"We are looking forward to partnering with Tulane University and similar institutions across Louisiana to expand pediatric research. Tulane has infrastructure and expertise that will allow us to reach new people in our state. Our hope is that increased access to clinical trials may lead to new treatments or new knowledge for the health conditions affecting our kids," Hsia said.
Tulane University will partner with Pennington Biomedical on the project, forming a consortium to attract and implement clinical trials, and successful data collection and sharing.  John Carlson, MD, PhD and Stacy Drury, MD, PhD at Tulane will serve as co-investigators alongside Dr. Hsia.

Louisiana is part of the NIH-funded Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) program which is working to build state-of-the art pediatric clinical research networks in rural and medically underserved areas, so that children from these communities can participate in clinical trials. The ECHO program will utilize this network and rely on its partners, like Pennington Biomedical. Other NIH-funded IDeA programs at Pennington Biomedical include the Center of Biomedical Research Excellent (COBRE) and the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center (LA CaTS Center).

Pennington Biomedical is one of 17 research institutions in the nation to receive an award through the new ECHO Program.

"Research is key to progress, and when networks of researchers join forces and share information, not only does it progress faster, but we are able to tackle larger health related concerns. Better still, we're leveraging on our success with the TReCC, the LA CaTS Center, and COBRE in building the capacity, expertise, and collaborations to be more and more competitive for grants like this one, and to ultimately translate these research efforts to improve health outcomes for our most vulnerable populations," said Dr. William Cefalu, executive director of Pennington Biomedical and principal investigator for the LA CaTS Center. "We look forward to working with our new ECHO program partners to learn more about how we can better prevent and treat the chronic disease impacting our children."

Learn more about current research underway in Pennington Biomedical's TReCC.

iLouisiana Dept. of Health and Hospitals' School-based Health Centers Adolescent School Health Program 2010-2011

iiState of Obesity Report, 2016

iiiNational Center for Chronic Disease Prevention, 2010

For more information on how you can support this and other projects at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, visit