Childhood Obesity

Paula Pennington de la Bretonne receives an honorary shirt from Pennington Biomedical Research Center executive director William T. Cefalu on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 at the Translational Research Clinic for Children.

Lauren Duhon

On Tuesday, the American Diabetes Association announced Dr. William Cefalu, the executive director of Pennington Biomedical Research Center, as its next chief scientific and medical officer.

Matt Petersen, the ADA’s managing director of professional engagement, said the association is thrilled to welcome Cefalu. He is the whole nine yards, understanding both the clinical and basic science aspects of the broad field of diabetes research, he said.

Cefalu is well-known and respected in the field, Petersen said. He has worked with the ADA for nearly two decades and served as the editor-in-chief of the ADA journal “Diabetes Care,” the highest-ranked peer-reviewed journal in the field of diabetes.

Cefalu’s considerable understanding of the disease’s expansiveness will be crucial when lobbying policymakers for increased support in Washington. Diabetes is the most prevalent disease with the least amount of funding coming from the federal level, Petersen said.

Diabetes has been growing at an epidemic rate, with nearly 30 million Americans currently diagnosed and more receiving diagnoses each day. The disease is especially prominent in Louisiana.

According to information provided by the ADA, 13.9 percent of Louisiana adults, or over 520,000 people, have diabetes. Each year, another 35,000 Louisiana residents are diagnosed.

A native of Louisiana and longtime diabetes researcher, Cefalu’s experience with the disease will allow him to provide powerful testimony before lawmakers, Petersen said.

“He can say ‘look, I’ve done this kind of work and I know how big the payoff will be if we do a lot more,’” Petersen said. “This is a real opportunity for him to influence how diabetes research is funded as a whole in this country.”

During his time at Pennington, Cefalu secured considerable national and international funding for chronic disease research, while personally attracting over $50 million in scientific grants and contracts for research into botanical treatments for insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity.

A University alumnus, Cefalu said only an opportunity as significant as the ADA position could draw him away from the state and his work at Pennington. University president F. King Alexander said that though Cefalu may no longer work from the state, his efforts will be felt.

“While we are sad to see Dr. Cefalu leave Pennington Biomedical, his new position with the American Diabetes Association elevates one of our state’s greatest challenges to a national focus,” Alexander said. “Louisiana citizens will benefit not only from the groundwork he has laid here at Pennington Biomedical but also from the important work he will do at the ADA.”

Cefalu’s tenure will begin Feb. 20, and he will be responsible for overseeing the association’s research programs and professional education programs, as well as translating research into applicable information for patients and clinicians.