Pennington director: state budget crisis threatens center’s recruitment efforts

John Kirwan has set ambitious goals to ramp up recruiting efforts and awareness as the new executive director of LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, where he hopes to bring in an additional 40 faculty members over the next five years.   

The major challenge standing in his way, however, is the looming state budget shortfall. One of the worst things for recruiting prospects to hear is that a state may be cutting back research funding, he says.

“I hope the budget gets resolved because one of my goals is to build out our critical mass and recruit new people to the facility,” Kirwan said, as he spoke to the Baton Rouge Press Club today.  

The state stands to benefit from investing in its research facilities, he adds. Research at Pennington generates $3 for every $1 in state funding it receives. The center can also help solve the state’s $10 billion chronic disease problem. More than 35% of the Louisiana population is obese, while diabetes affects more than 50% of people in the state. Diabetes alone costs Louisiana $5.4 billion a year.

To counter the threat of state budget issues, Kirwan says his best recruiting tool is the fact that Pennington is one of the best biomedical research facilities in the world, and he’s working on getting that message out, not just to the scientific community, but to people right here in Baton Rouge.

“How many are unaware of the biomedical research powerhouse operating on Perkins Road?” Kirwan asked. “The international scientific community is well aware of Pennington Biomedical. We want to make a more aggressive effort to share this resource we have with the general community.”

Kirwan encouraged people to get involved in research trials at Pennington. There are currently 156 studies now recruiting participants. Some interesting studies in the pipeline include finding ways to stop the obesity cycle, he says. One way is to prevent the generational transmission from mothers to babies, which ongoing studies are trying to address. Pennington is also working on treatments for Alzheimer’s and creating medications that provide the benefits of exercise for those who cannot exercise.

Kiran, who was named executive director of Pennington in December, is the former director of the Metabolic Translational Research Center and professor of molecular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. He has more than 30 years of research, teaching and service in the obesity and diabetes fields.

“I’m really excited by the opportunity to come to Baton Rouge, in what I view as stepping up with a position at a world-renowned institution,” he says. “I have big shoes to fill, and I look forward to the challenge.”

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