Good Health is Good Business

Bringing Scientists Back Home to Louisiana


May 2, 2024 · Baton Rouge, LA

Louisiana ScientistsEfforts to retain Louisiana’s best and brightest high school students in state often make the headlines. However, less attention is focused on how to keep those brilliant minds in the Bayou State after they complete undergraduate, master’s or Ph.D. programs.

No matter where they receive their degrees, many Louisiana natives consider coming home to be near family and friends. But finding competitive job opportunities—especially in science and technology—can prove challenging.  

Fortunately, LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center offers Louisiana scientists an opportunity to have the best of both worlds—to enjoy the comforts of home and to be a part of cutting-edge scientific discovery.

These Louisiana natives are among the renowned faculty who could have chosen to work anywhere in the world but came back because of the opportunities available at Pennington Biomedical.

For example, after earning her undergraduate degree in North Carolina, Stephanie Broyles, Ph.D., returned to Louisiana to complete her doctorate. Now an associate professor, she focuses on understanding how the people we know and the places we live affect our health. The Baton Rouge native’s research includes examining the role neighborhood parks play in encouraging social interaction, physical activity, improved mental health and even the aging process. In addition, Dr. Broyles and her research team are leading the Risks Underlying Rural Areas Longitudinal study, or RURAL, Heart and Lung study in Assumption and Franklin Parishes to understand the underlying health risks faced by residents in these rural parishes.

After completing her doctorate at Mississippi State in 1980, St. Martinville native Catherine Champagne, Ph.D., R.D.N., spent 9 years working on the LSU campus then came to work for the newly constructed Pennington Biomedical.  Over the past 34+ years, Professor Champagne has been involved in school nutrition, helped cookbook authors, but most of all been involved in high profile research design like the DASH studies where her expertise in food composition and menu design have been successful. Her work in dietary assessment and nutrition counseling are part of many PBRC studies.

Denham Springs native Jason Collier, Ph.D., completed his doctorate in New Orleans and post-doctoral training in North Carolina. After launching his career at the University of Tennessee, the associate professor came to Pennington Biomedical to further explore the mechanisms in the pancreas that interfere with the release of insulin from beta cells in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Dr. Collier and his colleagues now focus their attention on developing new medicines and other treatments that could prevent the destruction of beta cells or preserve the function of the remaining cells.

As a student worker in the laboratory of World War II hero and legendary Pennington Biomedical scientist William Hansel, Ph.D., Chris Morrison, Ph.D., worked his way up from rearranging books and washing beakers to undertaking his own experiments. After the DeRidder native left Louisiana to pursue his Ph.D. in Missouri followed by post-graduate training in Seattle, the pull of Pennington Biomedical brought the young scientist and his family back to the Bayou State. Dr. Morrison, now associate executive director of basic science, has identified the hormone FGF21 and its role in influencing how much protein we eat. His current work focuses on better understanding how our brains sense and seek out nutrient-specific foods.

After working as a research assistant at Pennington Biomedical while an LSU undergraduate, Baton Rouge native Amanda Staiano, Ph.D., left the Capital City for the U.S. Capital to pursue a Ph.D. and master of public policy degree at Georgetown University. An associate professor, Dr. Staiano and her research team utilize exergaming and other technologies to help get kids moving, and they collaborate with the Louisiana Department of Education and other groups to promote physical activity in childcare centers around the state. Recent work by her team includes expanding studies to engage children with mental health and developmental disabilities, along with other work to increase exercise and movement during early childhood. When the American Academy of Pediatrics drafted its first comprehensive guidelines in 15 years on the evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents with obesity, Dr. Staiano was tapped to serve as a co-author.

Monroe native Ursula White, Ph.D., earned both her undergraduate and doctorate in biological sciences at LSU. Now an associate professor at Pennington Biomedical, Dr. White directs its Physiology of Human Adipose Tissue Laboratory. Through her clinical studies, she is pioneering a new technique to study human body fat distribution and how changes in fat during diet and exercise interventions impact obesity and metabolic health outcomes.

In a recent move back to the USA and Louisiana, David Hughes, Ph.D., had his first exposure to research as a Pennington Biomedical student worker. Once he completed his undergraduate degrees at LSU, he moved to Europe to pursue his graduate degrees and post-doctoral training. The Alexandria born, but rural Archie, La., native earned his master’s degree in human biology at Oxford University and his Ph.D. in evolutionary genomics at the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. He has joined Pennington Biomedical’s Population and Public Health Sciences department, from the University of Bristol, as an assistant professor-research in molecular epidemiology and bioinformatics.

Click here for additional profiles of Pennington Biomedical’s world-renowned faculty.

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 conducts basic, clinical, and population research, and is a campus of the LSU System. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 530 employees within a network of 44 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.

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