Family Life, July 2017

Pennington Explores Infertility



Explores Infertility Gene

Mapping Study Seeks Participants

If you’ve struggled to get pregnant or know someone who has, there is a decent chance that a common hormonal disorder played a role. PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is the most common reason why many women have trouble getting pregnant. It affects 1 in

12 women around the world, which translates to 15 percent of women who are of reproductive age. “It can be incredibly frustrating for families who are trying to conceive and aren’t able to get pregnant,” said Dr. Leanne Redman, who studies maternal and infant health at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center. She is

leading up a study with scientists and endocrinologists around the country aimed at better understanding PCOS. PCOS develops when patterns of hormone signals from the brain become irregular and the ovaries make more testosterone than they should. Insulin from the pancreas can also contribute to this process which is why many women who suffer from PCOS are also insulin resistant. PCOS commonly results in irregular menstrual cycles, weight gain and increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Because of the elevated testosterone, many women with PCOS also experience unwanted hair growth. “I’ve talked with many women throughout my career who have dealt with PCOS and it’s heart-wrenching for them, particularly after many months and sometime years of trying to conceive. If we can better understand the genes behind this disorder, then we may be able to develop better therapies to help women prevent a diagnosis or to better treat PCOS,” Redman said. “We already know that PCOS runs in families, so genes play an important role in the disorder,” said Redman, who holds the LPFA Endowed Fellowship at Pennington Biomedical. The PCOS Gene Mapping Study is underway right now and its goal is to identify specific genes that increase the likelihood of a woman developing PCOS. To add to the already thousands of women we have studied, Redman and her team are now looking for women of African American heritage between the ages of 18 and 40 to participate in the PCOS Gene Mapping study. “We also know that the number of women affected differs by ethnic groups, so by studying the genes of large groups of women from diverse ethnic backgrounds, this research study hopes to identify the specific genes that increase PCOS risk, so we can better understand how the disorder develops.”

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Healthy Life, June 2017



New research provides

Keeping off the pounds for good once they’re gone can often be even more challenging than losing the weight—but what if an accountability partner could increase your chances of staying trim?

New research shows that maintaining weight loss may be improved through regular contact with someone who can help keep you accountable

In a research study published in the journal Obesity , scientists found that people who received regular telephone calls with a specialist could better overcome barriers to weight maintenance, and keep weight off more successfully than people who did not receive regular counseling.

LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center was one of four U.S. sites that participated in the Weight Loss Maintenance Trial, aimed at comparing three different strategies for maintaining weight loss. The study was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

During phase one of the study, volunteers participated in a six-month weight loss program. Those who lost more than 8.8 pounds during that time continued on to phase two of the program, a two and a half year weight maintenance phase. During those two and a half years, participants were assigned to one of three groups.

The first group was encouraged to continue using the tools they received during the weight loss phase —calorie counting, adherence to the DASH diet and physical activity monitoring. The second group had around-the-clock access to a website where they could check in regularly to report their weight status and receive advice. The third group received monthly telephone calls from an interventionist who provided motivational counseling and helped participants try to overcome barriers to maintaining their weight.

At the end of those two and a half years of weight maintenance, researchers found that without personal
contact, participants tended to regain lost weight; while participants with access to personal help and support kept the weight off better than the other two groups. Continuing personal support beyond two and a half years did not further improve weight maintenance.

The concept of personal motivation and support in maintaining weight loss may seem elementary. “After decades of research, scientists have learned how to produce highly effective methods for weight loss, but we still have not completely cracked the code on maintaining that weight loss. This study provides a foundation for us to move forward in improving ways in which we help people prevent weight regain,” said Dr. Phil Brantley, associate executive director for scientific education at Pennington Biomedical and an author on this study,

“This study is unique in that it had one of the largest and most diverse populations to take part in it. We looked at weight maintenance among people of varying genders, races, ages and risk factors. It was also one of the longest-running studies of its kind, so it provided us with a closer look at how different weight loss strategies can work over time,” added Brantley.

Pennington Biomedical is continuing its work to better understand the triggers of chronic disease such as obesity, and seek sound strategies for losing weight and keeping it off. For more information on how you can volunteer for one of Pennington Biomedical’s research studies, please visit or call 225-763-3000.


Dr. Phillip Brantley is the Associate Executive Director for Scientific Education for Pennington Biomedical Research Center. He earned his bachelor of science degree from Georgia College and State University,
Masters and Ph.D., University of Georgia, Athens, GA, 1980, Clinical Psychology, and completed his clinical psychology internship at Medical University of South Carolina and Charleston VAMC. His research interests include Weight loss techniques that promote long term weight management and their impact on biomarkers and health outcomes.

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Healthy Life, September 2016

New grant allows for quicker screening of potential diabetes treatments

by pennington biomedical research center
Dr. Collier
Dr. Collier

It often takes decades to develop new medications, test their safety and effectiveness, clear regulatory hurdles, and get them in the hands of doctors and patients who can benefit from them.

The time that it takes to bring a new drug from the research bench all the way to the consumer is often a decade or more. As the rates of chronic disease in the United States are skyrocketing, federal processes are constantly being refined in an effort to speed the path of getting new, promising drugs into the marketplace. Likewise, there is also room for refinement along other portions of the drug development pipeline.

With the health and wellness of patients in mind who yearn for treatment options and alternatives, researchers at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center are working to speed up the very first steps in the lengthy process of drug development.

Dr. Rogers
Dr. Rogers

Drs. Richard Rogers, Gerlinda Hermann and Jason Collier were recently awarded a LIFT2 grant from LSU to develop a means of screening potential new medications much quicker than was previously possible. Currently, a screening (or assay) for new drugs takes about two days to perform, but the new test they are working on may allow researchers to shrink that two-day period to a mere two hours.

Currently, one in 10 people has diabetes and one in three is at risk for the disease (and many do not know they are at risk). In Louisiana, one in two children is considered overweight or obese — a risk factor for developing diabetes, heart disease or metabolic syndrome, all conditions that in the past have characteristically affected people who are middle age and older.

Not only will this new test that Pennington Biomedical researchers are working on speed up the development of much-needed new treatments for diabetes, but it could also lower costs and increase the speed of evaluating therapeutic models or disease models right at the time when the need is most dire for people suffering from this all too common chronic disease.

That new, faster test will help determine the ability of pancreatic beta cells to respond to blood sugar and secrete insulin. The test will also assess the ability of certain tissues in our body to respond to insulin.

Dr. Hermann
Dr. Hermann

“I’m excited for this opportunity,” said Collier. “Anytime we are able to speed up research and development it can benefit people who are working to manage diseases like diabetes, and ultimately that’s why I go to work every day.”

Rogers, Hermann and Collier also hope that this new LIFT2 grant will allow them to transfer the technology from an experimental platform to that of an easier-to-use system that will make the test ready for commercialization and wider use.

“Our researchers are developing new and unique ways of combatting the chronic diseases that affect so many in our population,” noted Dr. David Winwood, associate executive director of the Office of Business Development and Commercialization at Pennington Biomedical. “Funding like this from LSU can provide the key ‘proof-of-concept’ resources needed to move those ideas from the lab bench to the patient’s bedside.”

*Dr. Rogers holds the John S. McIlhenny Endowed Professorship in Nutritional Neuroscience.

Healthy Life, June 2016

Simple Meal Tips for Staying Fit

by Pennington Biomedical Research Center
Dr. Catherine Champagne
Dr. Catherine Champagne

LSU football players don’t rush into Tiger Stadium without first reviewing the films of their opposing team. You likely wouldn’t head out for a dinner date without (at the very least) first brushing your teeth and putting on a nice outfit. And you probably would never start a work presentation or project without first putting thought and effort into the task.

Any mission that you plan to succeed in requires just that—a good plan.

So why should eating healthy be any different?

Dr. Catherine Champagne, professor of dietary assessment and nutrition counseling at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, says the key to building a healthy diet is preparation.

“First of all, you have to know what you are eating. You really need to be counting your calories,” Dr. Champagne said. “That’s the only way to truly know how much you are consuming.”

Sure, counting calories may not exactly be your idea of a good time, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Dr. Champagne suggests starting with recipe guidelines. If you are preparing lasagna in a casserole dish, some of us would likely pull it out of the oven and cut a large slice, depending on how ravenous we felt. Instead, Dr. Champagne urges that the dish should be immediately portioned out—if the recipe calls for 12 servings and you cut the lasagna into 12 even pieces, you’ll have a better idea of the caloric content of your food and will be less likely to underestimate what you are actually eating.

If you’re preparing individual servings, Dr. Champagne advises that measuring cups and scales can be very helpful, and they often pair nicely with a variety of smartphone apps that help you count calories.

bigstock-Pasta-Meal-1095251“You don’t need to use these tools every time you eat something, but they give you a good idea to start with of how much of a food is in an actual serving. You’d be surprised how many people are eating twice or three times the actual serving size because they’ve never measured out a single serving,” Dr. Champagne said.

When you’re at the grocery store, Dr. Champagne suggests trying to stick to the outside perimeter of the store as much as possible, where much of the lean meat, fresh fruits and vegetables and other nutritious products are stocked. While you’re there, stick to your grocery list, which is far easier to follow when you shop on a full stomach.

“More things seem appealing when you’re hungry, and you might not have a craving for that snack or sugary dessert now, but once it’s inside your house, you are very likely to eat all of it,” Dr. Champagne said.

At home, Dr. Champagne believes the best way to start the day is by eating breakfast. She says the National Weight Control Registry shows that people who are successful at losing or maintaining weight normally eat breakfast.

What if you’re not a “breakfast person”? Not to worry! Dr. Champagne says that as long as you’re getting some form of nutrition into your system, even if it’s not typical breakfast food, you’ll reap benefits. If you’re someone who can’t stomach the idea of eating when you first wake up, Dr. Champagne said you will also find benefits of eating breakfast even if it’s around 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning.

“That way you’re not famished and tempted to severely overindulge,” Dr. Champagne says. “Oftentimes we see many significantly overweight people who only eat one meal per day and many times it’s dinner. By that time they’re so hungry it’s easy to gorge.”

When it comes to a diet regimen, Dr. Champagne says the most important aspect is choosing one that fits your lifestyle and that you can stick to for the long term. For herself, she consumes a relatively low-fat diet with larger portion of fruits and vegetables, some whole grain carbs and low in refined carbs.

“Fat has more than twice as many calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates,” Dr. Champagne said. “That means if I wanted to eat a higher-fat diet, I would have to eat much smaller portion sizes. If you just can’t live without that high-fat flavor, you can keep it in your diet, but you will certainly need to downsize the amount of food.”

To satiate her need for flavor on her dietary regimen, Champagne avoids full-fat products and sticks with light mayonnaise, light salad dressings and tries to roast or bake her meats instead of frying them.

Dr. Champagne also suggests cutting down on trips to restaurants, which are almost always packing food with hundreds—maybe even thousands—of extra calories to ensure flavor, and serving customers larger than normal portion sizes. If you decide to eat out, check out the menus online and decide what you’ll eat before you get to the restaurant and are tempted to order something that doesn’t fit in with your nutrition plans.

There are also great cooking and flavoring guidelines which dietitians like Dr. Champagne commonly suggest to help stay within your goals:

Butter and Margarine:

  • Spread it
  • Use a little jam instead of butter on toast, waffles or pancakes.
  • Use roasted garlic cloves on bread or to flavor potatoes.
  • Try the low-fat or fat-free versions of these foods on your baked potato:
    • Ranch dressing
    • Sour cream
    • Plain yogurt
    • Cottage cheese
  • Only use a teaspoon size amount of butter on bread, potatoes or rice.
  • Keep the butter off the table.
  • Try light butters.

High-Fat Gravy:

  • Use tomato sauces for meats.
  • Make light gravy by pouring off the fat and thickening the meat juices.
  • Use a package mix to make gravy.
  • Instead of gravy, baste meats wit broth, lemon juice or wine.
  • Refrigerate the meat drippings and broths and then remove the hardened fat before making gravy or sauce.
  • Try experimenting with different spices instead of gravy.

Salad Dressings and Mayonnaise:

  • Try the low-or non-fat versions.
  • Make your own low-fat dressing.
  • Dilute regular dressing with low-fat yogurt, vinegar, water or juice.
  • Use mustard, ketchup or a very thin layer of mayonnaise on sandwiches.
  • Beware of salads made with mayonnaise; use just enough to moisten the tuna, potato or macaroni.
  • Substitute mayonnaise with low-fat yogurt.


  • Instead of frying or deep-frying, try baking, broiling, steaming, microwaving, roasting or grilling.
  • Sauté using non-stick cooking sprays or broth, flavored vinegar or wine.
  • Drain off excess fat.
  • Use evaporated skim milk instead of cream for soups or sauces.

Add Flavor to Vegetables With These Items:

  • Lemon juice
  • Vinegar
  • Onions and garlic
  • Very lean ham
  • Herbs and spices
  • Bouillon cube

To succeed on the mission to eat healthy, start with a solid plan.  The first step is to know what you are eating in order to make healthy and informed choices.

Looking for healthy recipe suggestions? Check out the tasty and good-for-you ideas devised by Pennington Biomedical’s research kitchen dietitians:  Here’s to your health!

Healthy Life, May 2016

Pennington Biomedical is researching ways to help women reduce diabetes risk after menopause

by Pennington Biomedical Research Center
Dr. Eric Ravussin
Dr. Eric Ravussin

Average life expectancy in the United States has risen to nearly 79 years. That’s good news and a significant increase from decades past. The not so good news is that people who are living longer are dealing with chronic medical issues far longer than in years past. These diseases – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. – can take a toll on the body.

“As you age, your risk for being diagnosed with diabetes increases considerably, especially for people who are over 45 years old,” explains Dr. Eric Ravussin, who serves as associate executive director of clinical research at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center. “That’s especially true for women going through menopause. These women often experience weight gain as their estrogen levels decrease.”

That gain in weight—often around the midsection—causes a spike in the risk for diabetes and other diseases such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

“We know that extra weight carried around the midsection is particularly dangerous since it sits so close to vital organs such as the liver and the heart,” said Ravussin.

To help improve the quality of life for women as they age, Pennington Biomedical has undertaken a new project called the RISE research study. This study aims to investigate whether a current post-menopausal treatment will improve how the body responds to insulin and burns calories from fat.

Ravussin and his colleagues at Pennington Biomedical and Tulane University are testing whether a generic version of an existing U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drug currently prescribed for the treatment of postmenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, dryness and osteoporosis may also be able to improve insulin sensitivity and potentially decrease body fat in postmenopausal women.

Three cheerful multiethnic female friends laughing on the beach“If research can help us find ways to improve insulin sensitivity and help these women avoid some of the normal consequences of menopause, then we can substantially cut their risk for a diabetes diagnosis,” said Dr. Kara Marlatt, who is working with Ravussin on the study.

“A lot of the women who have already volunteered for this study are really interested in learning more about their health and they want to help contribute to science that supports the creation of better treatments and a better quality of life in the future for their daughters, nieces and for their whole community,” said Marlatt.

For this study, participants receive health information and insight to share with their primary care physicians, including a body composition scan that shows the percentage of muscle, fat and bone in the body, as well as an MRI to measure fat deposits in tissue and organs, lab work and study-related medication at no cost. Additionally, participants will receive compensation for their time.

For more information on the RISE research study and how to participate, go to or call 225-763-3000.

April 2016, Healthy Life

How to Work Out at Work

by Pennington Biomedical Research Center

pbrc-logoStaying in shape can sometimes feel like a full-time job. That feeling is exacerbated when you consider that many of us are running some sort of balancing act that feels like it’s straight out of the circus: 40+ hour-a-week-job, a significant other and a circle of friends, holiday social engagements, shuffling kids to school events, meal prep, trying to keep your home or apartment orderly — and the list goes on.

How in the world can we possibly find time to squeeze in the 150 minutes of exercise per week that’s recommended for adults by the American Heart Association?

Dr. Robert L. Newton, Jr., a researcher at Pennington Biomedical Research Center admits it isn’t easy. He studies physical activity and minority health, and he says the first step to getting fit – and staying in shape – is recognizing that the equation is simple: moving equals burning calories.

Since the U.S. Dept. of Labor estimates 72 million women in the U.S. work outside the home, Newton suggests utilizing work hours to maximize time spent moving.

The first step, Newton says, is identifying times at work when you’re sedentary and then trying to work in some mobility.

“If you can break up your sedentary time to no more than 60 minutes at a time, you’re getting a good start. That doesn’t mean you have to do sit-ups or push-ups in your cubicle, though,” Newton said with a laugh. “We realize people want to avoid getting their clothes dirty by being on the floor and breaking a sweat while they’re on the clock, but there are alternatives.”

Newton suggests taking the time to walk to a co-worker’s office instead of picking up the phone or sending an e-mail. Taking a quick stroll around the office, or getting up to grab some coffee or a drink of water are also options.

“It doesn’t have to be a lot of activity — just as long as you get up from that sitting position at least once every 30 minutes to an hour,” Newton said. “If you make moving a habit, those burned calories will eventually add up. Over the short term, taking breaks reduces your glucose and insulin levels compared to standing. Over an extended period of time, we could see cardio benefits, weight loss, and we can reduce the risk for diabetes, but these studies have not yet been conducted.”

By walking, Newton says the largest muscle groups in our bodies — the legs — are activated, which increases the uptake of glucose. In contrast, if you sit too much your body produces more glucose that has nowhere to go, putting sedentary workers at a much higher risk level for obesity, diabetes, and other diseases.

Dr. Robert Newton, Jr.
Dr. Robert Newton, Jr.

According to Newton, lunch time is a prime opportunity to get quality movement in.

“If you work downtown or in an area with restaurants, walk to lunch. If you take your lunch to work, try to carve out time before or after you eat to get your heart rate up,” Newton said.

The goal is moderate to vigorous activity, and Newton says you’ll know you’ve reached that level when you’re out of breath, with enough air to talk but not enough to sing. However, even light intensity physical activity has benefits.

“If you can take three 10-minute breaks throughout your day where you are getting to this point, you’ve reached the recommendation for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity for your day,” Newton said.

For those of us who have entirely too much on our work plate to lose 30 minutes of work time, Newton suggests looking into a standing desk, since the simple act of standing engages the muscles in our legs and allows us to burn calories. While standing desks can be costly, Newton says even a box on top of your desk can elevate your computer monitor and keyboard.

“Of course, standing all day can create back and foot problems, so I think it’s best to start standing for short periods of time and build up to longer periods,” Newton said. “And even standing up to stretch throughout your day can keep you flexible and limber.”

While a good heart-pumping workout is ideal, the goal is to work in exercise where you can, Newton said.

“It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing,” Newton said. “If you can’t make it to the gym, start small and work your way up.”