Q&A with BRAC’s 2019 Honoree for Project of the Year

To honor standout board members, community leaders, and ambassadors, BRAC distributes annual awards to its investors. This year, award recipients were announced in early April.  

BRAC’s Project of the Year Award was bestowed on Pennington Biomedical Research Center for its new Bariatric and Metabolic Institute. The Project of the Year Award is presented to an economic development project win that positions the Capital Region at the next level through job creation, capital expenditures, expansion of an industry sector, or long-term impact on the regional economy and brand.   

We had the chance to chat with Dr. John Kirwan, executive director of Pennington Biomedical Research Center, about the new project and its impact on the organization and community. Read the interview below. 

Where does the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute position Pennington on a national scale? 

The Bariatric and Metabolic Institute (BMI) is the first in the state where surgery and obesity medicine will be done in the same clinic. The institute is also the first to offer a transdisciplinary approach, where specialists in bariatric surgery, obesity medicine, and nutrition work side-by-side with scientists to find the best solutions to weight loss and diabetes control. The institute offers lifestyle interventions that help people change their behaviors, diet and exercise; drug therapies that include clinical research into new medications that are effective at weight loss and controlling diabetes; surgeries performed by world-renowned physicians; and combination therapies that meld surgical procedures and prescription medications to maximize success.   

Some facilities perform research. Others provide surgical procedures and/or lifestyle interventions. At the BMI, Pennington Biomedical’s scientific discoveries help ­­drive cutting-edge approaches to surgery, behavior modification and medications. 

The project was announced in October 2019, what has developed since then?   

The clinic at Pennington Biomedical is open. Space at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, where the surgeries will be performed, has been readied. The surgical, medical and nutrition teams have been staffed. The Bariatric and Metabolic Institute is working with patients virtually and strongly encourages the use of video visits for most medical conditions and checkups. In addition, the BMI opened for in-person visits on May 27.

Where do you see the bariatric and metabolic program in five years? Ten years? 

Although the effects of COVID-19 create some uncertainty, we expect that five years from now, the BMI will have performed between 450 and 500 surgeries. The institute will employ 40 people, 15 at Pennington Biomedical and 25 at Our Lady of the Lake. The institute will also have completed three to four funded studies, with 100 publications in peer-reviewed journals. 

In 10 years, the BMI will have established itself as a clinical trials site for bariatric and metabolic procedures. We expect to drive advances in bariatric surgery techniques, lifestyle interventions, and the medications for weight loss and controlling diabetes.  A decade from now when people discuss cutting-edge bariatric and metabolic interventions, Pennington Biomedical’s BMI will be the first name that springs to mind. 

Pennington is a major asset to the Baton Rouge Area and all of Louisiana. What benefits does an organization like Pennington bring to our region?   

There are so many it’s difficult to narrow down the list. Start with economic development. The Research Center provides some 450 clean, nonpolluting jobs that any community would want, a faculty whose members generate an average of $630,000 a year in grant income while creating 14 new jobs, close to $444,000 in household income and $1.2 million in new business sales for the state. The Research Center provides job opportunities for Louisiana’s children in STEM professions. Pennington Biomedical helps burnish the Baton Rouge Area’s reputation, with world-leading research into the triggers of chronic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and dementia. Discoveries by our scientists are shaping the treatment of those illnesses, improving the outcomes for cancer treatments, helping break the cycle of obesity by moms and their babies through exercise and healthier diets, and slowing the type 2 diabetes epidemic through interventions that help people manage their blood sugar and weight. 

Please add anything else you would like to share about the project.   

The Bariatric and Metabolic Institute represents a quantum leap forward for Pennington Biomedical in terms of treatments for obesity and diabetes, complementing the research center’s expertise in understanding and creating preventative programs for these chronic diseases.   

Read more about the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute in this feature by BRAC. 

Morgan is the Marketing Manager for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. In her role, she manages writing organizational publications and materials, oversees BRAC’s social media and blog, and coordinates timelines for all internal marketing projects.

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