NIH Funds New Research with Bogalusa Heart Study Members

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Unique Opportunity Opens to Study Link between Childhood Blood Sugar Levels, Mid-Life Brain Health
Released: Friday, May 10, 2019

Baton Rouge, Louisiana -- A consortium of Louisiana scientists from LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Tulane University and Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center aims to discover how blood sugar levels early in life contribute to a person's brain health in middle age.

These results could lead to new blood sugar management guidelines for children and help prevent late-life cognitive decline -- a condition for which there is no effective treatment.

"The Bogalusa Heart Study is one of the longest, ongoing studies of a biracial, semi-rural community in the South. It is the only study that collected assessments of the community members' metabolic status from early childhood through mid-life," says Dr. Owen Carmichael, co-principal investigator and director of Pennington Biomedical's Biomedical Imaging Center. "This study will add measurements of brain health as well as cognitive performance in midlife."

Carmichael and colleagues will use Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans to assess brain health in study participants.

In addition to being a treatment center for cancer, Mary Bird Perkins has unique expertise with imaging technologies that can also permit assessment of brain health. Approximately 200 Bogalusa Heart Study volunteers will receive PET scans at the Mary Bird Perkins facility in Hammond, according to Jonas Fontenot, PhD, Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Physics at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center and study co-investigator.

"We are excited to play a role by offering advanced imaging services for this important research," says Dr. Fontenot. "This is a collaboration that we hope will inform future healthcare decisions and impact prevention of disease. As an organization, we continue to seek ways to advance medicine and work with likeminded institutions dedicated to enhancing healthcare in Louisiana."

"This imaging data will be linked to the same participants' blood glucose levels from their childhood years in the Bogalusa Heart Study," adds Tulane University's co-Principal Investigator Lydia Bazzano, MD, PhD.

Biostatistical tests will then be used to determine if any relationship exists between the blood sugar levels the volunteers experienced in childhood and brain health markers--including Alzheimer's disease markers--measured via PET and MRI in midlife.

The study is officially titled "Early Life Glycemic Status and Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Markers in Middle Age: The Bogalusa Heart Study." The short version of the title is The Bogalusa Heart Study - Brain 2 or BHS - Brain 2. The study is expected to begin recruitment on May 15.

Dr. Bazzano and Dr. Carmichael are co-Principal Investigators on the five-year, $3.5 million grant, which includes sub awards to Pennington Biomedical, $1 million, and Mary Bird Perkins, $1.4 million. Participants in the Bogalusa Heart Study who are interested in the new study should contact the Tulane Center for Lifespan Epidemiology Research at (985) 735-9861 or go to

The research is supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health grant 1R01AG062309-01.


Lydia Bazzano, MD, PhD, Director, Center for Lifespan Epidemiology Research, Lynda B. and H. Leighton Steward Professor in Nutrition Research

Dr. Lydia Bazzano is the Lynda B. and H. Leighton Steward Professor in Nutrition Research, Director of the Center for Lifespan Epidemiology Research, and Chair of the Bogalusa Heart Study Steering Committee. She earned her Bachelor's degree summa cum laude in Biology, her Medical Doctorate, Masters of Public Health and Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology at Tulane University. She completed internship and residency in Internal Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center associated with Harvard Medical School in Boston and returned to New Orleans to accept a position as Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in 2005. Dr. Bazzano has been working with the Bogalusa Heart Study program since 2010 and has served as PI on several NIH funded grants investigating the role of vascular risk factors in cognitive and physical performance in midlife in the Bogalusa Heart Study cohort. She is a native of Louisiana and has published more than 150 peer-reviewed research papers reporting results of observational studies and randomized controlled trials in community settings.

Owen Carmichael, PhD, Director of the Biomedical Imaging Center at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center

Owen Carmichael, PhD, is the Director of Biomedical Imaging at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Dr. Carmichael received his PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University in 2003 and completed a fellowship in Radiology at the University of Pittsburgh. Since 2005, Dr. Carmichael has run an independently funded research laboratory that develops cutting edge neuroimaging data analysis techniques and applies them to studies of the aging brain. He served as co-director of the Neuroimaging Core of the UC Davis Alzheimer's Disease Center between 2007 and 2014. In 2014 he became Director of Biomedical Imaging at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, where he provides state of the art 3T MRI, DEXA, ultrasound, and BodPod services to Pennington Biomedical faculty, and image analysis services to a variety of studies. His research has been funded by NIH, NSF, the Alzheimer's Association, and several pilot awards.

Jonas Fontenot, PhD, Chief of Physics and Chief Operating Officer, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center

Dr. Jonas Fontenot is the Chief of Physics and Chief Operating Officer at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. He is an accomplished medical physicist and innovator, dedicated to enhancing the safety and effectiveness of radiation treatments for the Cancer Center's patients. He has published approximately 50 journal articles and received more than $2 million dollars in sponsored research funding. He is a leader of the nationally-acclaimed LSU/Mary Bird Perkins Medical Physics Partnership, serves as a health policy fellow of the American Society for Radiation Oncology, and played a key role in bringing the Gamma Knife Icon, a breakthrough treatment for brain tumors and central nervous system conditions, to the Gulf South. Dr. Fontenot currently serves on the faculty of the LSU Department of Physics and Astronomy in Baton Rouge. He is certified in Therapeutic Medical Physics by the American Board of Radiology and the American Society for Radiation Oncology. He holds a Bachelor of Science in physics from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, and both a Master of Science and PhD in medical physics from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.


Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center is a regional cancer care organization that has been fighting cancer for almost 50 years. The cancer care organization provides care at nine centers in Baton Rouge, Covington, Hammond, Houma, Gonzales, Zachary, and Natchez, Louisiana, and its service area encompasses 18 parishes across Southeast Louisiana and several counties in Mississippi. For more information, please visit


The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. It is a campus of Louisiana State University and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes approximately 63 faculty and more than 20 postdoctoral fellows who comprise a network of 40 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and support personnel, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Pennington Biomedical's more than 450 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 222-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.