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Louisiana researchers are awarded national research grant to study prenatal and early postnatal causes of obesity

Released: Tuesday, November 01, 2005

BATON ROUGE – The Pennington Biomedical Research Center will be the new home of a national Clinical Nutrition Research Unit (CNRU) specializing in prenatal and early postnatal causes of obesity and other chronic diseases. The CNRU is funded by the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Led by Eric Ravussin, Ph.D., a team of nearly 30 researchers were awarded this competitive grant of more than $5.5 million over five years. Research at the Center is currently focused on nutrition and prevention of diseases.

“This grant will allow us to bring together several scientists to work on a common theme,” Ravussin said. “Moreover, we want to reach out to other institutions in Louisiana with faculty who can contribute to this new research effort.”

The newly funded research unit at the Center becomes one of only ten in the country, each of which has a dedicated research theme. The new CNRU’s theme is “Nutritional Programming: Environmental and Molecular Interactions.” Nutritional programming is a line of research that focuses on the role of nutrition on the developing fetus and in early postnatal life. It investigates how variations in nutrition may impact or alter the inherited characteristics of individuals.

“Ten years ago, if I had seen identical twins with an exact, hundred-percent match in DNA, I would have told you they are exactly the same. Not any more,” said Ravussin, “We see differences that go beyond DNA, and those differences seem to be partly due to influences of nutrients during fetal and early life development.”

Ravussin said previous research suggests that early nutrient interactions may be involved in causing a predisposition for common conditions, including obesity.

For example, he said, other researchers have already found that low birth weight may impact lifelong metabolic functions and represents a significant risk factor for the development of metabolic diseases in adulthood.

According to Ravussin, the nutritional and hormone mix that fetuses are subject to in the womb seem to have a profound effect on adulthood. The new CNRU will be dedicated to thoroughly examining these complex issues and will provide an opportunity for “bridging clinical and basic science.”

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is a campus of the Louisiana State University System and conducts both clinical and basic research. It is the largest academically based nutrition research center in the world, with the greatest number of obesity researchers on faculty. The Center's nearly 600 employees occupy several buildings on the 234-acre campus.



Photo: Left to right: Center researchers Anthony Civitarese, Ph. D., Madlyn Frisard, Ph. D. and principal investigator, Eric Ravussin, PH. D., discuss the molecular interaction between two proteins potentially involved in the development of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

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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.