The Cooper Institute

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


Laura DeFina, MD

Laura DeFina, MD
Chief Science Officer

Dr. DeFina leads The Cooper Institute's Research division that focuses on looking at the benefits of exercise and other health behaviors in numerous health areas including depression and memory in seniors. In addition, she oversees the Cooper Institute/University of Texas Southwestern Research Collaboration with Dr. Scott Grundy from UT Southwestern which develops collaborative research projects with investigators from both institutions. Dr. DeFina has authored and co-authored manuscripts related to, among other topics, brain health, cardiorespiratory fitness, injury in physically active women, and healthy aging.

Laura DeFina received her MD from George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC and completed her post-graduate training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. While in the US Army, she practiced medicine at Andrew Radar US Army Health Clinic (Fort Myer, VA) and at Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center (Fort Gordon, GA). In 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 given her interest in prevention and research. After three years at Cooper Clinic, she joined The Cooper Institute to begin a full-time research career and became the Chief Scientific Officer in February of 2013.

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 which is currently underway. In addition to prevention-related activities, 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, PhDc

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; PhDc 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.

Carrie Finley, MS

Statistician/Data Analyst

Carrie Finley serves as a statistician and data analyst in the Research Division of The Cooper Institute. She provides analytic support for Cooper Institute research scientists as well as numerous outside collaborators. She also directs the Nutritional Epidemiology project with the purpose of collecting and analyzing dietary data from Cooper Clinic patients. During her tenure at CI, Carrie has co-authored numerous scientific publications, as well as the book "Healthy Eating Every Day," which uses behavioral change theory to help people improve their eating habits.

Carrie received her BS in nutritional sciences from Texas A&M University and an MS in epidemiology from the University of Texas-Houston School of Public Health. While working at the Institute, Carrie has been able to successfully merge her interests in nutrition, physical activity, wellness, and research methodology.

Jonathan Cohen, PhD

Jonathan Cohen, PhD
Director of Human Genetics

Jonathan Cohen, PhD, is a Professor of Internal Medicine at the Center for Human Nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, where he holds the C. Vincent Prothro Distinguished Chair in Human Nutrition Research, and Director of Genetics at the Cooper Institute.

Dr. Cohen earned his doctorate at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, then moved to UT Southwestern in Dallas where he did postdoctoral training with Scott Grundy and with Helen Hobbs. He remained at UT Southwestern where has focused his research on lipid and lipoprotein metabolism. Together with his scientific partner, Dr Helen Hobbs, he has identified genes responsible for Mendelian disorders of cholesterol transport as well as more common forms of hypocholesterolemia and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.