Pennington Awarded Five Multi-Year Grants

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Released: Monday, June 23, 2003

BATON ROUGE, La.—Five multi-year grants totaling approximately $9.4 million have been awarded for studies by scientists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

The grants are as follows:

  • $4.4 million from the U.S. Department of Defense for a study to promote healthy weight and fitness in U.S. Army career personnel.
  • $1.9 million from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a Weight Loss Maintenance Trial.
  • $1.4 million from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of NIH for a study of the agouti-related protein and its role in human obesity.
  • $1.4 million from the NIDDK for studying the regulation of obesity and diabetes by agouti and melanocortins.
  • $330,744 from the U.S. Department of Defense for development of cancer therapies through a study of human prostate cancer cells injected into mice.

The study to promote healthy weight and fitness in U.S. Army personnel is headed by principal investigator Dr. Donald A. Williamson. Co-investigators for the four-year study are Drs. Donna Ryan, Pamela Davis Martin, Ray Allen, Tiffany Stewart and Corby Martin. The primary aims of this research project are (1) development of a computer-based data collection system for tracking body weight/body fat and fitness in career soldiers, (2) development of an Internet-based intervention to promote healthy nutrition and physical fitness and (3) testing the efficacy of this Internet-based intervention for the prevention of weight gain and promotion of physical fitness in career soldiers.

The Weight Loss Maintenance Trial is being conducted by principal investigator Dr. Phillip J. Brantley, joined by Drs. David Harsha, Catherine Champagne and Betty Kennedy. The study, funded for four years, focuses on the regain of weight after initial weight loss. Its purpose is to determine the effects of two innovative behavioral interventions, each designed to maintain frequent contacts, compared to a usual-care control group. If the interventions are effective, they should complement ongoing efforts to stem the obesity epidemic and ultimately prevent obesity-related cardiovascular disease.

The study of the agouti-related protein (AGRP) and its role in human obesity is headed by Dr. George Argyropoulos, working with Pennington Center collaborators Drs. Claude Bouchard, Steven Smith, Jacqueline Stephens and Eric Ravussin. The five-year study centers on control of food intake by the hypothalamus and other hormone-secreting organs. When AGRP is overexpressed in animals, they develop obesity. The scientists will try to find mutations in this gene that can predispose humans to obesity.

The study of agouti and melanocortins in relation to obesity and diabetes is funded for five years and is led by Dr. Randall Mynatt. Collaborators are Drs. Jacqueline Stephens, Steven Smith, Thomas Gettys, Andrey Ptitsyn, Hans-Rudolf Berthoud and Leslie Kozak. The agouti gene was the first “obesity” gene cloned, and over the past 10 years the system it regulates has become recognized as a major regulator of body fat stores. To understand the potential function of agouti in human fat, Dr. Mynatt has engineered transgenic mice that produce high levels of agouti in their fat. The mice become obese and develop type 2 diabetes.

The three-year study to develop a treatment for prostate cancer is headed by Dr. Carola Leuschner, with Dr. William Hansel serving as a consultant. Laboratory mice will be inoculated with human prostate cancer cells so that treatment regimens, treatment efficacies on killing metastases and potential side effects of drugs can be observed. Membrane-disrupting peptides, which are connected with hormone ligands, destroy cell membranes only from cells that carry the receptors for those ligands. This construct ensures highest specificity to the target cells. These peptides, created in a laboratory, are similar to peptides found in bee venom.


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 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 44 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and support personnel, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Pennington Biomedical's more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 222-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.