The NORC has chosen “Nutritional Programming: Environmental and Molecular Interactions” as a central focus to develop. This focus is based upon convincing basic science and clinical data indicating that an interaction between genes and early life environmental conditions is important in the development of obesity and the different facets of the metabolic syndrome. Our aim is to focus the NORC’s efforts around this emerging and important theme. By keeping this tight focus and avoiding too broad an approach, the NORC is more likely to produce meaningful synergies and expansion of research efforts including basic, clinical, and population science.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded research base on which the NORC has been established includes basic and clinical research addressing the most prominent causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States related to nutritionally induced chronic diseases, many of them linked to obesity. The NORC’s platform includes three scientific cores: a Molecular Mechanisms Core (genomics and cellular imaging), very closely related to a Human Phenotyping Core (characterization of phenotypes predisposing to obesity and the metabolic syndrome and behavioral interventions to counteract those), and an Animal Models and Phenotyping Core (generation of genetically engineered animal models and a battery of instruments to phenotype them). Furthermore, the NORC supports clinical investigation addressing the etiology of nutritionally induced chronic diseases across the entire age span, from gestational and perinatal development through childhood and adolescence, to young and middle-aged adults up to elderly individuals.
The resources of the NORC assist investigators at the center and Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge and at the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans to address the pathophysiology and molecular mechanisms leading to different facets of the metabolic syndrome. These research programs are conducted to instigate the effects of gender, racial, and ethnic background within a context of cultural factors. The NORC is bringing to the established research base at Pennington Biomedical a structured system to provide core services to: (a) support the research base, and (b) promote novel investigation around our chosen theme of molecular mechanisms of nutritional programming induced by environmental factors.
The NORC provides a mechanism to enable both Pennington Biomedical and the NIH to maximize the effect of research funding.
As of November 2011, there were more than 120 members of the NORC, including people outside of Pennington Biomedical. One of the most successful programs provided by this Center Grant is the yearly funding of Pilot and Feasibility grants to implement new innovative research around our theme of nutritional programming. Such studies allow young investigators to collect adequate preliminary data as the basis for larger NIH research grants. Since the start of the NORC in 2005, a total of 34 Pilot and Feasibility grants have been awarded from our funding (approximately $20,000-30,000/each award). From these projects, 15 grants have been submitted and 7 have been funded (5 NIH, 2 American Diabetes Association).