The Speakers

Nicole M. Avena, Ph. D. holds a dual position with the University of Florida and Princeton University. She has appeared in multiple media outlets speaking about her studies of food as an addiction similar to that of drugs of abuse. Dr. Avena is interested in understanding why some individuals develop aberrant eating behaviors. Her work has largely focused on studying the concept of food addiction using animal models. Her biosketch can be found at   

Leslie J. Baier is a leading researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Her recent genetic studies have utilized genome-wide approaches to identify potential susceptibility loci for type 2 diabetes and obesity. Her lab has completed two genome-wide association studies (GWASs) that utilized a 100,000 SNP and a 1 million SNP platform to identify common variants associated with type 2 diabetes, obesity, or pre-diabetes/pre-obesity traits in Pima Indians and is pursuing the hypothesis that multiple rare variants may underlie a proportion of the variance of these common diseases with the hope that understanding and quantifying specific genetically-determined susceptibility factors could lead to prevention by identifying individuals “at risk” for these diseases and lead to improved treatment by identifying novel therapeutic targets or personalized targets.
Phillip Brantley, Ph. D. is the John S. McAIlhenny Endowed Professor, the Director of the Division of Education and a Professor of Behavioral Medicine in the Comprehensive Obesity Management Program with Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Dr. Brantley’s research interest is in weight loss techniques that promote long term weight management and their impact on biomarkers and health outcomes. His biosketch can be found at   
Daniel J. Driscoll, M.D., Ph.D. is the John T. and Winifred M. Hayward Professor of Genetics Research and a Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Genetics & Microbiology at the University of Florida. The overarching goal of Dr Driscoll's research is to blend meaningful discoveries at the laboratory bench and the patient's bedside which ultimately will result in significant treatments for both children and adults. His research interests are focused in three interrelated areas that combine his clinical and basic science expertise; Genomic imprinting/Epigenetics; Prader-Willi syndrome; and Early-onset morbid obesity. Dr. Driscoll studies Prader-Willi syndrome as a model system to understand genomic imprinting and early-onset morbid obesity. Dr. Driscoll's laboratory developed a system over a decade ago which is now used worldwide as a rapid means to make the diagnosis of Prader-Willi syndrome as well as several other imprinted disorders.  In addition, his laboratory was the first to propose and demonstrate a whole new class of mutations which are now called imprinting defects.  His biosketch can be found at 

Joel Elmquist, D.V.M., Ph. D. holds the Maclin Family Professorship in Medical Science, in Honor of Dr. Roy A. Brinkley, Carl H. Westcott Distinguished Chair in Medical Research at Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas. Professor Elmquist’s research interests are Body Weight Homeostasis, Central Autonomic Control, Diabetes and Glucose Homeostasis, Neurobiology and Neuroanatomy of the Hypothalamus. His biosketch can be found at

Anthony (Tony) P. Goldstone, M.D., Ph.D. is a Senior Clinician Scientist and Consultant Endocrinologist, Metabolic and Molecular Imaging Group, MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, Hammersmith Hospital, Imperial College London, UK. A major theme of his current work is using functional MRI and body fat MRI to investigate appetite, eating behaviour and obesity. He has researched and published widely on hormonal control of appetite, neuroendocrine, hypothalamic and metabolic abnormalities in obesity and the genetic Prader-Willi syndrome, particularly investigating the causes of hyperphagia, through pre-clinical, clinical, post-mortem, genetic, interventional, fat and brain imaging studies. This includes work as a research fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Brain Research in Amsterdam and the Division of Pediatric Genetics at the University of Florida, USA. His biosketch can be found at

Linda M. Gourash, M.D. is a Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician. She received her medical degree from Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, D.C., and completed her pediatric and subspecialty training at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in 1980 before serving on the full time faculty of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine until 1991 in the Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry. As the Medical Director of the Prader-Willi and Behavioral Disorders Program of the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh she worked for more than 5 years almost exclusively with children and adults with Prader-Willi. Dr. Gourash has served on the Board of Directors of the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association of the USA. She is currently providing clinical consultation for the International Prader-Willi Syndrome Organization and the PWSA-USA. Her biosketch can be found at

Frank Greenway, M.D., is a Professor and the Chief of the Outpatient Clinic at the Pennington biomedical Research Center. Dr. Greenway’s area of interest is obesity treatment including diets, herbal supplements, obesity surgery and obesity drug development. He is part of the Divisions of Obesity and Functional Foods at PBRC. His biosketch can be found at .

Steven B. Heymsfield, M.D. holds the George A. Bray Endowed Super Chair in Nutrition and is the Executive Director of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Dr. Heymsfield's research focuses primarily on human obesity, including energy regulation, weight loss treatments, and co-morbidity effects. He also has a long term interest in the development of methods for evaluating body composition and the application of new technologies such as fMRI and PET. His biosketch can be found at

James G. Kane, M.B.A. is the Chair, Research Advocacy, Prader-Willi Syndrome Association (USA). Mr. Kane has a thirty year-old daughter, Kate, with Prader-Willi syndrome and has been actively involved in various aspects of the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association (USA) for many years. The website for Prader-WIlli Syndrome Association (USA) is
Rudolph Leibel, M.D. is the Christopher J. Murphy memorial Professor of Diabetes Research, Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine, Director, Division of Molecular Genetics, and the Co-Director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, with the Columbia University Medical Center, Department of Pediatrics, New York. Dr. Leibel has worked in obesity research for over 25 years. His research has related to adipose tissue biochemistry and cellular physiology, the molecular genetics of control of body weight in rodents and humans, the bioenergetics of body weight regulation in humans and the role of leptin in these processes, and the molecular genetics of Type-2 Diabetes. He and his associates conduct studies in both rodents and humans, and have recently undertaken collaborative experiments designed to create disease-related cells and tissues from human embryonal stem cells. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and has recently served as a member of the Federal Advisory Council for NIDDK and as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. His biosketch can be found at

Ruth Loos, Ph.D. is the Group Leader of the Aetiology of Obesity Programme in the MRC Epidemiology Unit, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Dr. Loos obtained her PhD at the University of Leuven, Belgium studying the foetal origins of adult disease in twins. She then moved to the USA where she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. There her research mainly concerned the identification of genetic variants for energy expenditure and fat oxidation through linkage and association studies. She joined the MRC Epidemiology Unit in July 2005. Her biosketch can be found at  

Christian L. Roth, M.D. is on staff at the Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Foundation, Center for Integrative Brain Research, Seattle, Washington. Dr. Roth’s clinical interests include children’s endocrine disorders and diabetes mellitus. His research is focused on childhood obesity, diabetes and puberty. It includes metabolic factors in body weight regulation and hypothalamic control of feeding circuits, genes involved in childhood obesity and diabetes, and post-craniopharyngioma obesity. On the field of puberty, he is working on treatment of precocious puberty and genes controlling the onset of puberty. His biosketch can be found at  

Ann Scheimann, M. D., M.B.A. is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics, the Gastroenterology and Nutrition, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Pediatric Liver Centers, at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Scheimann’s special interests include non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity and Prader-Willi Syndrome. Her biosketch can be found at

Randy Seeley, Ph. D. holds the Donald C. Harrison Endowed Chair is a Professor and the Director of the Cincinnati Diabetes and Obesity Center, Director of the Obesity Research Center, with the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio.  Dr. Seeley’s work is focused on peripheral hormones in the central nervous system that regulate food intake and body weight. In particular, he has focused on the numerous hypothalamic and gastrointestinal peptides and their associated receptors that influence both energy intake and energy expenditure. He leads a partnership with Cincinnati’s Ethicon Endo-Surgery aimed at better understanding of the basic biology behind obesity and finding new solutions for treating obesity and related conditions, including diabetes. The main focus of this research is to gain insight into the hows and whys behind bariatric surgery—such as the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass procedure. His biosketch can be found at

Val C. Sheffield, M.D., Ph.D. is the Director, Medical Genetics Division and a Professor of Pediatrics, University of Iowa, Children’s Hospital, Iowa City, Iowa. His research interests include hereditary blindness, Bardet-Biedl syndrome and congenital heart disease. His biosketch can be found at  

Maïthé Tauber, M.D., Ph. D. is the Head of the Endocrinology, Genetics, Medical Gynaecology and Obesity Team of the Children’s Hospital in Toulouse, Hôpital des Enfants and Paul Sabatier Université, Toulouse, France. Professor Tauber’s interests are focused on growth hormone (GH) treatment and sensitivity, obesity and syndromic obesity, neuroimaging in PWS and she has recently begun studying Modafinil and Oxytocin in PWS. Professor Tauber is the chairperson of the federation of reference centres of rare diseases in Toulouse, Co-Director of a working group on child obesity in the Health Ministry, Head of the Réseau RePPOP Midi-Pyrénées (prevention and management of childhood obesity) and coordinates the French networks for obesity.

Christian Vaisse, M.D., Ph. D., holds the Vera M. Long Endowed Chair in Diabetes Research and is an Associate Professor with the University of California, San Francisco Diabetes Center, San Francisco, California. The overall goal of Dr. Vaisse’s laboratory is to identify genetic defects implicated in the onset and progression of multi-factorial metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. The strategy combines human genetic approaches with molecular biology and animal studies and is currently concentrating on the molecular mechanisms implicated in the hypothalamic effects of the adipocyte secreted, weight regulating hormone, leptin. His bio sketch can be found at

Robert Waterland, Ph. D., is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular & Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Waterland’s group focuses on nutritional influences on developmental epigenetics as a likely mediating mechanism. Epigenetic gene regulatory mechanisms regulate tissue-specific patterns of gene expression and are established during development. Cytosine methylation is an epigenetic mechanism of particular interest because mammalian one-carbon metabolism, which supplies the methyl groups for DNA methylation, is intimately dependent on dietary methyl donors and cofactors. The Waterland group is increasingly interested in whether maternal obesity and nutrition before and during pregnancy affect developmental epigenetics in the hypothalamus and, consequently, body weight regulation in her offspring. His biosketch can be found at .

Rachel Wevrick, Ph. D. is a Professor, Academic Lead, Research Education, Women and Children's Health Research Institute, The University of Alberta, Department of Medical Genetics, Alberta, Canada. Research in her laboratory focuses on genetic disorders that affect human development with specific interests in pediatric obesity, developmental delay, and also study developmental aspects of gene regulation. Dr. Wevrick has identified genes that are inactivated in Prader-Willi syndrome, and is currently studying the roles of these genes in the normal development of the nervous, muscular, and endocrine systems using mouse models to evaluate the normal roles of these proteins and the effect of their loss in Prader-Willi syndrome. Her biosketch can be found at

Jack A. Yanovski, M.D., Ph.D. is the Section Chief, Section of Women’s Health Research and the Head of the Unit on Growth and Obesity in the Developmental Endocrinology Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health Bethesda, MD. In 1997, Dr. Yanovski founded the NICHD's Unit on Growth and Obesity to study obesity and its complications in children. At the NIH, he has carried out a series of clinical studies related to the evaluation and treatment of obesity in children and adults, as well as laboratory investigations of the molecular etiology of obesity. His biosketch can be found at

Lynne P. Yao, M.D. is a clinical team leader in the Division of Gastroenterology and Inborn Errors Products, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Silver Spring, Maryland. Her scientific interests have centered on the review and clinical development of drugs and biologic products used to treat rare, inherited metabolic diseases. Her biosketch can be found at

Andrew Zinn, M.D., Ph.D. is the Associate Dean for Medical Scientist Training Program and a Professor at the Eugene McDermott Center for Human growth & Development, Internal Medicine. His lab is studying the genetics of obesity, in particular, the molecular mechanisms that regulate appetite and focuses on SIM1, using conditional knockout mice to dissect Sim1’s temporal and spatial actions. The lab is seeking to identify Sim1 transcriptional target genes in CNS neurons relevant to appetite regulation. In particular the lab has identified a mouse Sim-1 knockout model that recapitulates the hyperphagic obesity phenotype of a girl with severe, early onset hyperphagic obesity. His biosketch can be found at

Edited: 08/07/2012