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Pennington Center Scientists Awarded Major Research Grants

Released: Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Dr. Mike Lefevre, Dr. Steven Clarke, Dr. Les Kozak, and Drs. Richard Rogers and Gerlinda Hermann Recognized for Achievements

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center of Louisiana State University recently announced four major research grants awarded to five of its scientists.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute awarded Dr. Mike Lefevre and several collaborators at the Pennington Center a four-year, $9.5 million research grant. Dr. Lefevre, director of the Pennington Center’s lipoprotein laboratory, will conduct a study identifying the link between healthy diet, genetic factors, and biological mechanisms in African Americans to combat cardiovascular disease. His study is titled, “Diet, genetics, and CVD risk factor response in African Americans."

Dr. Lefevre said reduction in CVD through dietary change has considerable potential for a beneficial impact on public health. A prudent diet can result in moderation of both lipid profiles and blood pressure. Since African Americans have increased risks associated with CVD, diet along with enhanced understanding of the genetic components involved, could identify a link between healthy diet, genetic factors, and their underlying biological mechanisms.

The NIH recently awarded a five-year, $1.9 million research grant to Dr. Richard Rogers and Dr. Gerlinda Hermann. Dr. Rogers, a professor, and Dr. Hermann, an assistant professor, in the laboratory of autonomic neuroscience, will study the relationship between the immune system regulatory agent, tumor necrosis factor, and the brain circuits controlling digestive processes and feeding behavior. Dr. Roger’s and Dr. Hermann’s research is directed toward understanding why patients with cancer, severe infections such as AIDS, or chronic inflammatory diseases like lupus, suffer side effects of nausea, severe appetite suppression, failure to absorb food, and vomiting. These side effects are responsible for much of the suffering in the terminal stages of the disease. Finding a way to interrupt this immune-brain signal may lead to the development of treatments that will prolong life and improve the quality of life for patients with serious diseases.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the NIH awarded Dr. Steven Clarke a four-year, $964,323 grant for diabetic genomic research. Dr. Clarke is a professor of molecular genetics and the LPFA Chair in Nutrition at the Pennington Center. His study will examine the role of two enzymes, delta-6 and delta-5 desaturases, which are responsible for the synthesis of fatty acids essential to brain development, cognition, and fat metabolism. Low amounts of the desaturases enzymes lead to fat accumulation in a variety of tissues including heart and muscle. The effect of this fat accumulation is a weakening of the insulin signals telling the body to metabolize blood sugar. A key component of his research is to identify components in foods that will “turn-on” the genes, and prevent the loss of the enzymes during aging.

The Board of Regents in conjunction with the Governor’s Biotechnology Initiative granted Dr. Les Kozak a one-time, $161,000 grant and a five-year, annual award of $100,000. Dr. Kozak, a professor of molecular genetics at the Pennington Center and the C.B. Pennington Chair in Nutrition, is launching a new research program on invivo bioimaging with transgenic mice with the goal of defining genetic and nutritional mechanisms for thermogenesis to reduce obesity in humans.

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The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the causes of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. Itis a campus of the Louisiana State University System and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at the Center includes approximately 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 50 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dieticians, and support personnel, and 19 highly specialized core service facilities.  The Center's more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 234-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.