Eight Louisiana Health Institutions Join in Single Louisiana Research Initiative; Pennington Biomedical Research Center to Lead Effort for Underserved Population

BATON ROUGE, LA - A nearly $20 million, five-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to support biomedical research was announced today by eight higher education academic, research, and health care delivery institutions in Louisiana.

From Left to Right: Frank Opelka, M.D.,  LSU System Executive Vice President for Health Care and Medical Education Redesign; Patrice Delafontaine, M.D., Director, Tulane University Heart & Vascular Institute; William T. Cefalu, M.D. Principal Investigator, LA CaTS Center, IDeA CTR grant and Associate Executive Director of Clinical Research at Pennington Biomedical; Steven Heymsfield, M.D. Executive Director at Pennington Biomedical; and Steve Nelson, M.D., Dean, Louisiana State University School of Medicine-New Orleans. 

The NIH Institutional Development Award Program for Clinical and Translational Research (IDeA-CTR) grant will fund the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science (LA CaTS) Center whose goal is to increase the critical mass of and to support the next generation of clinician scientists. The LA CaTS Center will provide an infrastructure across the academic institutions of Louisiana to facilitate research in chronic disease prevention and improved health care in underserved populations. The initiative is led by Pennington Biomedical Research Center. "The LA CaTS Center represents an unprecedented collaborative effort among the state's academic institutions. The funding from the NIH to support this center will provide clinical researchers and medical personnel in Louisiana greater access to the critical resources required to accelerate research aimed at reducing the burden of chronic diseases. The research infrastructure will greatly facilitate collaborative goals, expand clinical trials among the academic institutions, and importantly, leverage vital resources contributed by each institution toward achieving the overall goal of the LA CaTS Center. Each key component of the center is designed to provide specific support in designated areas so as to enhance overall research productivity and effectiveness," said William Cefalu, M.D., Pennington Biomedical's Associate Executive Director for Clinical Research and principal investigator of the LA CaTS Center.

The LA CaTS Center is comprised of four Primary Collaborating Institutions: Pennington Biomedical Research Center, LSU Health Sciences Center-New Orleans, Tulane Health Sciences Center, and the seven public hospitals of the LSU Health Care Services Division (HCSD). Also participating are four Research Partners: LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport, Xavier University of Louisiana, Research Institution for Children at Children's Hospital, and LSU in Baton Rouge.

"This is a 'game changer' for Louisiana as it has created a new working network of medical research partners while putting best practices in medicine and preventive care into action. Importantly, as part of the LA CaTS Center, researchers at each institution will now benefit greatly from access to the collective expertise and resources of all the academic institutions," added Dr. Cefalu.

"This highly competitive, multi-million dollar grant provides the LA CaTS Center the funding needed to begin its mission in full: to provide prevention, management of diseases and research in the search for the triggers of chronic diseases," said Steven Heymsfield, M.D., Pennington Biomedical's Executive Director.

"A critical function of an academic medical center is to conduct research which translates into significant advancements in healthcare. The vision and ultimate goal of the LA CaTS Center, by providing and also leveraging the resources of the collaborating institutions, is to transform the clinical and translational research infrastructure and environment of Louisiana in order to enhance the main missions of the academic centers. Simply stated, the knowledge created by medical research results in new medicines, new treatments, and new technology and businesses which creates job growth," said Steve Nelson, M.D., Dean, LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans and leader of the LA CaTS efforts at LSUHSC-New Orleans.

"This program capitalizes on strengths and capacities unique to each of the participating institutions, culminating from years of effort and planning, and represents a unified, comprehensive approach to improving public health," said Patrice Delafontaine, M.D., Director of the Tulane University Heart & Vascular Institute, and leader of the LA CaTS effort at Tulane University School of Medicine. He added, "LA CaTS is designed to transform research in our region into a cohesive, mutually supportive enterprise."

Research undergirded by LA CaTS will focus on nutrition and chronic disease, health disparities, and expanded clinical trials, all ultimately designed to improve health care. According to the LA CaTS Center, the institutions will share clinical research facilities and support all aspects of the grant goals to:

  • promote the development of scientists, clinicians, and trained professional staff and leaders for continuation and growth of Louisiana's clinical and translational research base;
  • unify infrastructure consisting of clinical research units in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and LSU Health Care Services Division clinical sites throughout the state;
  • facilitate health outcomes research and clinical research recruitment using the electronic health record system of the LSU hospitals and clinics;
  • provide training in community-based, participatory research and related topics;
  • increase health literacy to individuals served;
  • support collaborations among researchers in Louisiana who have been awarded NIH funding through Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) and IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) programs.

Louisiana ranks among the highest nationally in deaths from chronic diseases, with lifestyle as a major contributing factor. For example, Louisiana has the fourth highest age-adjusted mortality for cardiovascular disease and cancer rates are above the national average. More than half of Louisiana youth are overweight or obese and four out of 10 residents meet the national criteria for medically underserved.

"These programs are designed to use complementary research and clinical strengths in the Gulf Coast region to build a vital, growing enterprise with the ability and commitment to solve the region's unique health problems. The project will further our strategy to align the research pipeline coming from the academic centers of our state with our clinical and business priorities to improve health outcomes for the benefit of Louisiana's citizens," said Dr. Cefalu.

"The LA CaTS Center will serve as an essential catalyst to the LSU HCSD clinic redesign in chronic care through providing crucial infrastructure," said Frank Opelka, M.D., LSU System Executive Vice President for Health Care and Medical Education Redesign. He added, "The LA CaTS infrastructure will create linkages across the LSU System to enhance clinical prevention and chronic care by utilizing our advanced health IT programs in chronic disease management. Collectively, by working together, we will enhance the research opportunities with all our LA CaTS partners. LSU HCSD looks forward to contributing to the LA CaTS Center."

The NIH Institutional Development Award Program for Clinical and Translational Research (IDeA-CTR) encourages consortium applications to develop regional infrastructure and capacity to conduct clinical and translational research on diseases that affect medically underserved populations and/or diseases prevalent in IDeA states. LA CaTS will fulfill this goal through a partnership with the state of South Carolina, through the Clinical Translational Science Award (CTSA) program based at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
"The Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center Institutional Development Award (IDeA) will provide the environment for basic and clinical researchers to work collaboratively in addressing the health problems and needs of the Gulf Coast region," said Sidney A. McNairy, Jr., Ph.D.,D.Sc., an IDeA program official at the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences. "This is particularly important because the region has a disproportionately high incidence of cardiovascular and other diseases, including some forms of cancer, especially in underserved and minority populations."

The new grant, one of the largest multi-institutional awards for health research in the State of Louisiana, was led by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at the request of the Louisiana Board of Regents. Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell commented, "The development of a well-trained, highly qualified workforce is inherently dependent on Louisiana's emergence as a center for biomedical research."

For more information on this grant award, please visit lacats.org. The NIH grant number is 1 U54 GM104940, and is entitled "Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center".


Louisiana Leaders React to Newly Funded LA CaTS Center

Officials of all eight institutions comprising Louisiana's research team focused on reducing chronic diseases prevalent among state residents, especially in underserved populations, welcomed news that the National Institutes of Health awarded nearly $20 million for their collaborative research project.

The NIH grant will fund the newly created Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science (LA CaTS) Center at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. The LA CaTS Center is designed to transform research into a unified robust enterprise that will replace the traditional model of institutions operating in isolation.

Research will focus on nutrition, chronic diseases, health disparities and preventive approaches to improving public health in Louisiana. The collaborating institutions will share clinical research resources and facilities.

The eight institutions comprise two groups. Four are primary collaborators:

Pennington Biomedical Research Center, LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans (LSUHSC-NO), Tulane Health Sciences Center, and the LSU Health Care Services Division (HCSD), composed of seven public hospitals.

Four other institutions are research partners: LSU in Baton Rouge, LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport (LSUHSC-S), Research Institution for Children at Children's Hospital, and Xavier University of Louisiana.

Reaction from leaders was uniformly enthusiastic.

Interim Louisiana State University System President and Interim LSU A&M Chancellor William L. Jenkins: "For generations, Louisiana residents have been medically underserved.  As a result, our citizens, at near epidemic levels, suffer from obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.  The NIH grant represents an unprecedented opportunity for our universities, medical schools, hospitals, clinics and research institutions to collaborate in ways never seen before by taking advantage of not only the expertise of our scientists but also LSU's new statewide electronic health records system that will provide a rich source of patient biomedical data as we search for clues while developing treatments and educational programs for those afflicted by the chronic diseases that plague so many people in our state and nation."

Tulane University President Scott S. Cowen: "This collaborative program will be transformative for the participating institutions and will have a major impact on health care outcomes in our state. The complementary strengths of the collaborating institutions will speed the development of clinical and translational research in our state."

Xavier University President Norman C. Francis: "Louisiana is currently ranked 49th in the U.S. in the overall health status of our citizens. And, racial and ethnic minority populations are impacted disproportionately. For example, Louisiana's cancer mortality rate is the highest in the nation and African Americans have by far the highest rate among any racial and ethnic group. One of the goals of the LA CaTS grant is to translate the results of medical research in a manner that more quickly and effectively impacts the health of our communities, including the prevalent health disparities they suffer. Xavier's NIH designated Center for Health Disparities is pleased to be playing a significant role in this important initiative."

Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center - New Orleans Chancellor Larry Hollier: "We support the concept of better integration of existing faculty and coordinated recruitment of new faculty across institutions, providing support for the development and long-term sustainability of the translational research enterprise, and improving and sustaining bi-directional relationships with our communities. The results will be to better address the needs of vulnerable populations and improving public understanding of and support for clinical research."

Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport Chancellor Robert A. Barish:  "Promoting research that cuts across disciplines and schools and takes full advantage of interdisciplinary strengths among our faculty is a core element of strengthening our institution's research."

Children's Hospital President and CEO Steve Worley: "The goal of using this award to further research aimed at 'prevention, care and research of chronic diseases in the underserved population' of people in Louisiana has considerable merit. .....improving the health of children will have a significant long term impact on improving public health throughout the state."

Louisiana Elected Officials Comment on the Grant Award and its Significance:

United States Senator Mary Landrieu: "I am delighted that the LA CaTS Center has received this important funding. The LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, Tulane Health Sciences Center, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and the LSU Health Care Services Division should be commended for putting together a unique proposal that represents a strong model for Louisiana's future in health research. This award is a recognition of these institutions' potential to achieve exceptional results as partners in this endeavor, and also a recognition of the excellent work they currently do. I am excited about the future of LA CaTS."

United States Senator David Vitter: "Improving Louisiana's health research and health care delivery systems will require efforts from a broad coalition, and the LA CaTS Center will help achieve those goals and higher standards. Partnering institutions to create a central resource will help improve the health and wellbeing of Louisianians, and the Center could serve as a prototype for other states to replicate."

Congressman Rodney Alexander: "I'm proud to support this unique coalition program, which will build and strengthen the biomedical research capacity in Louisiana, while centering our state as a national model for such important health care endeavors. Moreover, the LA CaTS Center will go far in attracting and retaining hundreds of innovative faculty, graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, making new growth opportunities and critical health care advancements boundless."

Congressman Steve Scalise: "I'm proud to support the LA CaTS center and congratulate all involved in securing this grant which will allow the center to elevate Louisiana's clinical research endeavors to national significance.

Congressman Bill Cassidy: "Biomedical research is a vital component of Louisiana's economy and health infrastructure.  The work being performed by the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Center, in conjunction with the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, will strengthen our health systems and make Louisiana a leader in biomedicine.  I am glad my office was able to be of assistance to them as they successfully competed for this grant."

For more information, go to lacats.org, or download the LA CaTS description document.


Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Angela deGravelles, 225-202-5073 (cell)
LSU Health Sciences Center - New Orleans, Leslie Capo 504-568-4806
Tulane University, New Orleans, Mike Strecker 504-512-1347
LSU Health Care Services Division, Baton Rouge, Charles Zewe 225-578-3941
LSU Health Science Center- Shreveport, Sally Croom 318-675-8769
LSU Baton Rouge-Ernie Ballard, 225-578-5685
Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, Richard Tucker, 504-520-5425
RIC Children's Hospital, New Orleans, Cathleen Randon 504-896-9373