Jacqueline Stephens, PhD

Metabolic Basis of Disease Center Director

Claude B. Pennington Endowed Chair of Biomedical Research and Professor of the Adipocyte Biology lab

The Metabolic Basis of Disease Center was developed to support early-career scientists as they study the metabolic networks that become dysregulated during the progression of various diseases including diabetes, obesity, preeclampsia, and anxiety.

The new Metabolic Basis of Disease Center will increase the number of scientists whose research addresses important health challenges while enabling these young investigators to establish independent research programs with sustainable independent funding.

Learn more about the 2020 launch of the Metabolic Basis of Disease Center here.


All research studies conducted within the Metabolic Basis of Disease Center:

  • Enable the growth of young, knowledgeable faculty and expand our scientific infrastructure to promote biomedical research discoveries that will increase our understanding of the metabolic features of a variety of different diseases.
  • Discover the triggers of chronic diseases through innovative research that improves human health across the lifespan.
  • Focus on various aspects of metabolic diseases with the use of innovative methods.

Unique Infrastructure

The figure at left illustrates the integral and critical place of the new Metabolic Basis of Disease Center (labeled COBRE Phase 1) in the overall research portfolio that has allowed Pennington Biomedical to excel in the field of metabolism-associated disease research.

The Metabolic Basis of Disease Center will interact with other NIH-supported center grants at Pennington Biomedical including a Phase 3 center grant led by Dr. Thomas Gettys that supports scientific cores and provides pilot and feasibility (P&F) funding. In addition, Pennington Biomedical has a Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC) that not only supports cores but also provides P&F funding to our institution and other academic institutions in Louisiana.

The Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science (LA CaTS) Center is the Institutional Development Award Program Infrastructure for Clinical and Translational Research (IDeA-CTR) anchor program in Louisiana. It is a consortium of the major academic and biomedical research centers throughout the state creating a unified research infrastructure with an overall theme of addressing health disparities and improving health outcomes in our underserved population with chronic diseases. Pennington Biomedical also has an NIH-funded Botanical Research Center (BRC), in partnership with Rutgers University. This center supports research on various botanical extracts to promote metabolic resiliency.

Scientific Core Facilities

Significant research infrastructure is required to advance research and this new center will access existing support cores at Pennington Biomedical in order to create two new cores: a Preclinical Research Core and a Molecular Mechanisms Core. The new cores will integrate aspects of the existing Genomics and Cell Biology Imaging Cores.

Preclinical Research Core

  • Led by Dr. Chris Morrison, Professor and Associate Director of the Metabolic Basis of Disease Center, this core brings together the strengths of our current Comparative Biology Core, Animal Models and Behavior Core, and Transgenics Mouse Core. This new core will facilitate translational research by providing direct access to training and technical support in the use of rodent models, methods and phenotyping to clinical investigators with limited preclinical experience.

Molecular Mechanisms Core

  • The Molecular Mechanisms Core integrates aspects of our Genomics Core and Cell Biology Imaging Core to provide mentoring and technical support for Pennington Biomedical faculty. Modern biomedical research that uncovers the molecular basis of different disease states is increasingly dependent on the application of complex technology. The cost and effort associated with the acquisition and maintenance of necessary equipment, in addition to the technical expertise needed to perform these technologies, typically exceeds the capabilities of individual laboratories. The primary goal of the Molecular Mechanisms Core is to establish these technologies in the labs of our research project primary investigators (PIs) as well as provide direct assistance from experts in the field, including Drs. Michael Salbaum, Professor, and David Burk, Associate Professor - research.

These two new scientific cores within our Metabolic Basis of Disease Center are not duplicative, but leverage existing resources and bring together expertise in a manner that greatly enhances the training, support and career development of junior faculty. Our current and proposed core support areas provide unique research opportunities to junior investigators and to the institution.

Project Leadership

Principal Investigator, Jacqueline Stephens, PhD

Jacqueline Stephens, PhD, is the Center Director as well as the Claude B. Pennington Endowed Chair of Biomedical Research and Professor of the Adipocyte Biology lab. Her research program is focused on cellular signaling, transcriptional regulation, and the generation and metabolic phenotyping of novel animal models. She has had sustained NIH funding since 1997, shortly after she started her own laboratory. Dr. Stephens has chaired several NIH study sections and currently serves on the CADO (Cellular Aspects of Diabetes and Obesity) review panel at the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). She has a strong commitment to mentoring and career development for the next generation of scientists. She served as Associate Chair in the Department of Biological Sciences at LSU (2009-2011), where she was responsible for overseeing more than 160 graduate students. She has served as Associate Executive Director for Basic Research at Pennington Biomedical (2013-2015) and also acted as Institutional Official for Animal Care and Use during that time. She is committed to providing mentoring to all of the junior scientists in relation to all aspects of grantsmanship, scientific rigor, career advancement, FAIR data principles as well as the PREPARE and ARRIVE guidelines.

Project Leader Project Title
Emily Qualls-Creekmore, PhD
Assistant Professor
Role of lateral hypothalamic galanin circuits in mediating anxiety behaviors
Jennifer Sones, PhD
Assistant Professor
The role of maternal obesity-driven inflammation and adverse pregnancy outcomes in a mouse model of preeclampsia
Susan Burke, PhD
Assistant Professor
Role of fatty acid oxidation in islet beta-cell function
Yanlin He, PhD
Assistant Professor
GABA neurons in the ventromedial hypothalamus contribute to the counterregulatory response

This work is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Grant 1P20GM135002-01. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences or the National Institutes of Health.