Pennington Biomedical Research Center officially has a new clinic on its campus: the Metamor Institute.
State and local dignitaries joined Pennington officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday for Metamor, which unites resources from Pennington, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and LSU Health New Orleans to study obesity and diabetes treatments and perform bariatric, or weight loss, procedures. The public-private partnership is backed by Louisiana Economic Development and the Governor’s Office.
First announced in 2019, the clinic initially was named the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute. Officials said the change to Metamor reflects the institute’s mission. “Metamor” is a fusion of the words “metabolic” and “metamorphosis,” as well as “amor,” which represents compassion toward patients.
“Because the facility and services and the community outreach and advocacy that we offer are so unique, we decided that we should develop a new name for out institute that reflected these ideals,” said Metamor Director Dr. Philip Schauer, who was lured from Cleveland to run the clinic — thanks in part to a phone call from Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Officials hope Metamor will become both a sought-after destination for obesity and diabetes treatments and an economic engine for Baton Rouge. LSU economists are predicting a more than $100 million impact through research grant revenue, increased surgical procedures, technology development and lowered health care expenses.
Metamor was hampered in part by COVID-19. Though the institute saw more than 6,200 new patients and performed 379 procedures last year, some of the OLOL space intended for bariatric surgery was used for pandemic management.
But now Metamor can ramp up its services through a renovated facility at Pennington that includes 10,000 square feet of space, 12 exam rooms and 10 consultation rooms. The $2 million project took about 10 months to complete. Physicians performing bariatric procedures use surgical and office facilities at OLOL.
“We saw the new institute as essentially our obesity ‘moonshot,’” Pennington Executive Director Dr. John Kirwan said. “We have put together researchers, scientists, nutrition experts, psychologists and exercise physiologists all under one roof to leverage more than 30 years of leadership in obesity, all in the effort to transform the understanding and treatment of this chronic disease.”
Leaders at Friday’s ribbon-cutting called obesity a public health crisis that threatens Louisianians’ physical and economic well-being. They said obesity affects about 40% of Louisiana residents and costs the state $13 billion each year in direct medical expenses and lost workdays.
Edwards said many people with metabolic diseases have a greater risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19.
The governor noted that he was diagnosed as prediabetic earlier in the pandemic. He changed his diet and now has his health under control.
“I don’t know that I would have done that (before COVID-19),” he said. “I think I may have just told them, ‘Put me on Metformin. I’m going to keep eating my potatoes.’ But I did that because of what we learned together. But we should do so much more, and that’s really what excites me about this particular program.”
In attendance were patients who have been treated either by Metamor or Schauer. Some of them had lost more than 100 pounds through treatments or surgeries.
One of them was Remy Starns, chair of the LSU Board of Supervisors.
Starns first met Schauer in 2019. At the time, Starns weighed more than 400 pounds and was struggling with Type II diabetes. After consulting with his primary care doctor and Schauer, Starns opted for a gastric bypass performed by Schauer in February 2021.
Since then, Starns has lost 140 pounds and his blood sugar level fell from 266 milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dl, to 100 mg/dl, considered the normal range.
“Only 1% of the people who need this surgery currently in Louisiana get it, and we need to do much, much better than that,” he said.