A Lifetime in Research

October 25, 2023

During her 33 years at Pennington Biomedical, Dr. Catherine Champagne has contributed to groundbreaking research studies and watched the center grow by leaps and bounds

For more information, contact Joe Coussan, Joe.coussan@pbrc.edu, 225-763-3049

Cathy ChampagneBATON ROUGE – Dr. Catherine Champagne still vividly remembers passing the Perkins Road construction site where Pennington Biomedical Research Center was taking shape in the late 1980s. She was on her way to drop off her two young sons at school and had heard plans for a facility with a mission to improve human health throughout the lifespan, including a center for the study of nutrition. For Champagne, the thought stirred a longing to return to a field that she loved but hadn’t pursued in years.

“That would be a really nice place to work,” the Louisiana native recalled thinking, not knowing at the time how prophetic that moment would prove to be.

Three and a half decades later, Dr. Champagne, who is Professor of Dietary Assessment and Nutrition Counseling and Nutritional Epidemiology, has been a part of the team at Pennington Biomedical Research Center since its earliest days. However, the professional path this St. Martinville native took to arrive at her post was hardly a geographical straight shot along I-10 from her hometown to Baton Rouge. 

After receiving her undergraduate degree in Home Economics Education from the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana Lafayette), Dr. Champagne earned both a master's degree and a Ph.D. in Nutrition from Mississippi State University. During her time at Mississippi State, Dr. Champagne started a family with her then-husband before moving to Arkansas, where she worked as a clinical dietitian at The University of Arkansas Medical Center in Little Rock, serving patients across the pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and psychiatric specialties. 

“I knew I wanted to be in nutrition and be recognized as a professional in nutrition,” said Dr. Champagne.

Although she received her training and honed a passion for her work in Mississippi and Arkansas, for all the pieces to truly fall into place, Dr. Champagne had to return home to Louisiana.

The decision to come back home was made, in part, for the same reason many return to their roots, “after a while we were kind of homesick for the family,” said Dr. Champagne.

After a short stint in Lafayette, the family moved to Baton Rouge, where Dr. Champagne became an instructor at the LSU Agricultural Chemistry Laboratory from 1984-1989. Her role was to analyze agricultural products—a process that would prove useful to the work she would ultimately perform at Pennington Biomedical, which initially involved extensive research into food composition.

While her work at the Agricultural Chemistry Laboratory was rewarding, Dr. Champagne still wanted to return to the study of nutrition. So, when a trusted mentor suggested she apply for a position at the newly constructed Pennington Biomedical Research Center, she didn’t hesitate. On December 15, 1989, she accepted a position as an Assistant Professor/Research, Nutrient Data Systems Scientist. 

Now in her mid-seventies, Dr. Champagne has been part of the Pennington Biomedical team for 33 years and has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I find my job wonderful,” she said, “I’ve had a lot of different work experiences in terms of studies I’ve been involved in.” 

One notable highlight that is a source of professional pride for Dr. Champagne is her design of the feeding trial for the D.A.S.H (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet, an eating plan developed at Pennington Biomedical during the mid-1990s. Designed to lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, the D.A.S.H Diet has been ranked among the top three most effective diets over the past 13 years by U.S. News & World Report. As of the most recent report update, D.A.S.H ranks second only to the popular celebrity and influencer-endorsed Mediterranean Diet for healthiness, safety, ease of following, and promoting a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.

Currently, Dr. Champagne and her dietitian colleagues at Pennington Biomedical are beginning work on Nutrition for Precision Health, a feeding study that evaluates the metabolic responses to three types of diets, each built around varying quantities of food groups such as fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and sugar and processed foods. dr. Champagne is heavily involved in the planning phases, identifying the types of foods that will form the staples of each diet. Another exciting project benefiting from her expertise is Pennington Biomedical’s Greaux Healthy program, which is developing strategies to help Louisiana’s youth to maintain a healthy weight during four specific life phases—from pre-conception to young adulthood. 

When Catherine Champagne passed the Pennington Biomedical Research Center construction site all those years ago, as a nutritionist she was quick to recognize the positive impact on quality of life in Louisiana. She wanted to be a part of the center devoted to research into obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In the decades since, Dr. Champagne has watched the Pennington Biomedical team expand from around 30 people at the start to numbers now that she no longer recognizes everyone she passes on campus. She is joyful about the growth and wants more people to know about the groundbreaking ways in which the center is working to improve quality of life within the Baton Rouge community, and beyond. 

Story originally appeared in Country Roads Magazine

About the Pennington Biomedical Research Center

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. The Center architected the national “Obecity, USA” awareness and advocacy campaign to help solve the obesity epidemic by 2040. The Center conducts basic, clinical, and population research, and is affiliated with LSU.

The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 480 employees within a network of 40 clinics and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and other support personnel. Pennington Biomedical a state-of-the-art research facility on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge.

For more information, see www.pbrc.edu.

Pennington Biomedical Research Center
6400 Perkins Road
Baton Rouge, LA 70808