Teklad diet, bedding and enrichment

Tina Herfel, PhD

Nutritionist, Teklad Diets

Areas of Expertise

+ Laboratory animal nutrition
+ Nutritional immunology and microbiology in swine and poultry
+ Design and formulate diets for rodents, swine, poultry, canines, rabbits, drosophilia, and non-human primates

Specialties

+ Animal nutrition
+ Custom research diets
+ Customer support
+ Technical support
+ Product guidance
+
 Animal welfare
+ Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)

What are your responsibilities at Envigo?

My primary responsibility is supporting custom diets. I work with researchers to discuss their study designs and ensure the diet they’re using is the best fit for their desired outcome. I collaborate with customers on available options and help them make their choices. I also do some of our ingredient quality testing on our custom diets and answer technical questions about our standard diet line. I conduct sales training for employees, seminars for customers, and create website content and summaries of different diet options depending on the research field and other factors the customers may be facing.

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

I’ve always been really interested in animal health. I wanted to be a vet when I was younger and because of that, had an interest in animal science. I had a summer job after my freshman year in high school working in a nutrition lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I really enjoyed it. I continued my education there and worked in the same lab throughout my entire college career.

My use and interest in nutrition has evolved over time. Early on, it was agriculture production. I thought it was so fascinating how small changes to a diet can make big changes in production output. I was looking at skeletal formation and how making small tweaks to a diet can improve bone quality in poultry birds. So, in the end, you're making the lives of these egg-producing birds a little bit better because they have a stronger skeletal system.

I then started translating my knowledge about nutrition into human health. I was lucky enough to work in a lab where we used swine to understand how making modifications to infant formula affects the developing immune system and microbiota. I really liked that kind of aspect of translational science. I think that’s why I ended up at Teklad. I’m working with researchers who are really trying to translate their studied models into human outcomes. It’s all preclinical work and that taste of translational science caught me. I wasn't very interested in going back to agricultural research after that. I like to help and this seemed like the best fit. I could really make the biggest influence on research here rather than just studying one small aspect of nutrition.

What are some of the key attributes of being successful in your role?

I think being collaborative is really important. Recognizing your own strength and the strengths within the group -- knowing who you can rely on and trusting them. That’s pretty much what I do. I collaborate with researchers so I have to identify, ‘Okay. How much do you know about diet? How much do I need to teach you? And, what type of questions do I need to ask you?’

It’s also important to stay interested. I think being a lifetime learner is really helpful in this position. Always wanting to learn more is really helpful. Nearly every day I read a science article or ask a question that I don't necessarily know the answer to and have to figure it out.

What are the best parts of your job?

I especially like working with the nutrition team. All of us have different backgrounds so we all look at nutrition issues a little differently. We have some really great, intense conversations about how and why we should formulate a certain way. I liken it to herding cats because none of us do anything exactly the same.

I also get really excited when I see diets I worked on really hard get published. I'm always working on the front part of a research study. You always have the best intentions and really hope it works out. So for me, that’s the cherry on top. After all that hard work, getting a Google alert when something’s published and thinking, ‘Oh, I remember that diet and exactly why we made those few choices.’ It’s fun to read what the scientist was able to learn by feeding that diet. It also extends my knowledge.

What career achievements make you proud?

I really think helping design liver disease (Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis or NASH) diets has been pretty influential in my career. We created them in early 2014. All of the knowledge I had accumulated - working with different researchers and reading lots of papers - led to us being able to create an entire marketing campaign on the diets. We highlighted the different options in a quick document to send to new researchers interested in the NASH field. It gives them a breakdown of the various types of available diets, some of the caveats with feedings and what to expect. I’m very proud of that because I feel like it’s something that helps many different researchers and it’s a tangible thing I’ve created.

It also makes me really proud to see people publish the custom diets we’re making. That means when they contacted us, we were able to assist them in their study design by creating these diets and that the study design held up to peer review. It created results that were meaningful enough to be published. So, to me, that’s the ultimate finish line -- to make sure the diets we’re making meet the quality of peer review.

What are some of your favorite things to do outside of Envigo?

I have two young boys, so I enjoy family time. My husband and I spend time with the boys outside in the backyard, playing soccer and just running around and stuff. I’m really into going to a fitness bootcamp right now. My husband, also a scientist, loves using microbiology to make a lot of beer and wine from scratch. I don’t help him make it, but I enjoy tasting it.

Please contact us if you have a question for Tina or would like to learn more about our laboratory animal diet capabilities.

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