The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Research Staff

Laura DeFina, MD

Laura DeFina, MD
President and Chief Executive Officer

Laura Fink DeFina, MD is the President and Chief Executive Officer for The Cooper Institute, appointed by the Board of Directors on June 2, 2014. In addition, Dr. DeFina specifically leads the research division as The Institute's Chief Science Officer, a position she has held since February, 2013.

Dr. DeFina received her M.D. from George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. and completed her post-graduate training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. While in the U.S. Army, she practiced medicine at Andrew Radar U.S. Army Health Clinic (Fort Myer, VA) and at Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center (Fort Gordon, GA).

After relocating to Dallas, she practiced Geriatrics with the Health Texas Provider Network/Baylor Senior Health Network for 12 years prior to joining the Cooper Clinic in 2006 to pursue her interest in prevention and research. After three years at the Cooper Clinic, in 2009 she joined The Cooper Institute as the Medical Director. While involved in research at The Institute, she has overseen The Cooper Institute/University of Texas Southwestern Research Collaboration and has authored and co-authored manuscripts related to, among other topics, brain health, healthy aging, depression, cardiorespiratory fitness, and injury in physically active women.

Outside of The Cooper Institute, Dr. DeFina has served on the Prevention and Brain Health Group for the Texas State Plan on Alzheimer's Disease since 2009. She was recently appointed to the Texas Council on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders by Governor Perry. Additionally, Dr. DeFina is in the fifth class of Leadership North Texas. She is very active in church volunteer activities especially in the arena of providing a safe environment for children, disabled, and elders alike.

Benjamin L. Willis MD, MPH

Benjamin L. Willis MD, MPH

Dr. Willis received his MD from UT Southwestern Medical School in 1980 with post doctoral residency training at LSU in New Orleans and is a board certified ophthalmologist. He received his MPH from the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth in 2006 with an emphasis in biostatistics. He has been with the Cooper Institute since 2007 as staff epidemiologist and has authored peer-reviewed journal publications and presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine. Dr. Willis has directed the development of the Cooper-UT Southwestern Biobank at CI and works in concert with UT Southwestern collaborators. His current research interests include healthy aging and the relationship of midlife fitness and modifiable risk factors with health outcomes in Medicare patients.

Beth Wright, PhD

Beth Wright, PhDc
Director of Data Management

Beth Wright is the Director of Data Management for The Cooper Institute. She leads a talented team of database specialists in support of the Institute’s data management needs.

Beth began her professional career with the Institute as an intern and moved to full-time staff member shortly thereafter. The Institute provides her the unique opportunity to combine her undergraduate (BSPH in Biostatistics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and graduate degrees (MS in Wellness and Fitness from Middle Tennessee State University; PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Texas at Houston Health Science Center) to explore the relationships between health behaviors and outcomes. Her responsibilities at the Institute have included co-authorship on numerous scientific publications, project management, data management and analysis, as well as morbidity and mortality surveillance for the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. She maintains membership in the American College of Sports Medicine and the Society for Epidemiologic Research.