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Jacqueline Stephens

The National Institutes of Health has awarded an $11 million grant to Pennington Biomedical Research Center scientists to establish a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence, according to a news release.

The five-year grant will be used to establish a Metabolic Basis of Disease Center, which will allow young scientists to study the mechanisms of diabetes, preeclampsia and anxiety-driven eating, the release says.

“The grant provides Pennington Biomedical with the opportunity to establish a new research focus that will hopefully be a significant benefit for the state of Louisiana, which has a disproportionately high incidence of metabolic diseases,” said professor Jacqueline Stephens, center director and the primary investigator of the new five-year center grant.

In addition, the grant money will provide funds for mentoring and training Pennington's young scientists so they can eventually secure their own independent research funding, the release says. The grant will support 14 professional jobs in Louisiana for five years.

An overall benefit of the grant will be to strengthen Pennington Biomedical so it can be more competitive with other major research facilities that study metabolic diseases, including Harvard Medical School, the University of California at San Diego, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. Stephens said.

The initial projects include: research by assistant professor Susan Burke to investigate lipid metabolism — how fats are broken down and burned — in the pancreas; studies by Jenny Sones, assistant professor of theriogenology in Veterinary Clinical Sciences at LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, to determine how reproductive fat tissue contributes to preeclampsia, a condition of dangerously high blood pressure that can occur during pregnancy; and research by Emily Qualls-Creekmore, assistant professor and director of behavioral neurosciences at Pennington, to identify the neural circuit and molecular mechanisms that link metabolism and anxiety.