Areas of expertise
+ Offering technical expertise, support, and training to researchers and sales staff on Teklad products
+ Designing custom research diets while working with academic and industry researchers
+ Metabolic models, fatty acid metabolism, and genetics
+ Quality control and food safety
+ Animal nutrition
+ Teklad custom research diets
+ Customer support
What are your responsibilities at Envigo?
I work with our customers who need custom diets for their research studies. I advise which diets they may need by asking questions that may be relevant to their study. What animals are being used? Do they plan to do any breeding? How long are they planning to feed those animals? I find out their main research goals and advise which things we should control for in their diet while making sure they have an appropriate control diet so they can determine if their study will be able to appropriately address the questions they’re asking. I serve on our custom diet quality control committee, answer technical questions about diets, and develop content for our website and technical pieces. I also support our sales team through custom diet training to ensure they have accurate and reliable information to share with our customers.
Why is nutrition so important in research studies involving laboratory animals?
A lot of disease models may have sensitivity to a specific nutrient like a vitamin, mineral, or particular level of fat - like saturated fat or cholesterol. Modifying the diet of an animal can also be used to induce a disease. You could feed models a high fat diet to study obesity or a high salt diet to study hypertension.
We also work with researchers who have a lot of genetic models with diseases that mimic human disease like Alzheimer’s or Multiple Sclerosis. Researchers want to see what affect the levels of a particular nutrient have on that disease model. Does a deficiency in a nutrient make it worse? Does a supplementation of a nutrient make it better or delay the onset of the disease?
Then there are researchers testing new compounds - either plant related or pharmaceutical - to assess safety. Any one of those compounds could become the next new drug for controlling a disease like diabetes or cancer, and that’s exciting.
What inspired you to pursue a career in science?
I have always loved to learn. When I got into college, I started working in a lab where I was able to learn new things, test out experiments, and create new knowledge. I’ve always had a curiosity of how things work and a love of learning. I was really focused on veterinary science at the time. I have always loved animals and, from a very young age, thought I wanted to become a veterinarian.
Tipping over to nutrition happened after I broke my pelvis my freshman year in college. I enrolled in a nutrition and wellness class as part of my recovery. A nutrition student had come to one of our classes to lecture and I thought the subject was so neat. I immediately went home, looked up a nutrition science program, and realized all my pre-vet requirements were the same science classes required for nutrition. I could easily switch my major.
My mom also had a little to do with it. She would tell me it’s fine to love animals, but warned if I became a vet, I’d have to deal with animals who were sick or hurt. Plus, owners who may not be taking the best care of them. She said, “I think you should go ahead and pursue nutrition and have animals of your own, on the side.”
What are some of the best aspects of your job?
The collaborative environment. Researchers have expertise in their field and I have knowledge in nutrition. It’s a really good collaboration and I get to learn about cutting edge research that’s taking place. Most of the time, these are new studies people are undertaking — years away from being published. It’s exciting to know that we’re on the leading edge of new research that’s going to come out and new drugs that are being developed to treat diseases. Knowing we’re helping support those things is really motivating. I’m inspired by our customers every day.
What are some key attributes to being successful in your role?
You have to be highly organized. We work with several different customers on a daily basis, on a variety of topics like vitamin, mineral, and fatty acid studies. You have to be open to knowing a little about a lot of different things. You’re working with several different people and everyone is excited about getting their study started as soon as possible. You have to be able to manage completing things that are quick and easy and then set aside several hours to work on the ones that are more complicated.
Which career achievements make you proud?
Helping design our new diet formulation program. I put a lot of thought into formula search features and incorporated a customer communication log which links diets to the communication items that reference them. The new program is much more efficient and streamlined. It’s also web based, so any of our nutritionists may access it from anywhere. If a formula is changed or a new one is saved, it’s time stamped with who did it. That’s a very important feature from a quality perspective.
We create between 800 and 1,000 new formulas each year and that number continues to grow. All that nutrient information is in the database. We don’t need to create new formulas if someone else has already created a specific diet that’s perfect for a researcher’s study. I can search with a variety of parameters to find that diet compared to what was in our old database. The specificity is incredible. You can put in an ingredient, its exact inclusion rate, and other ingredients to find if that formula already exists. The results will tell us if we need to create a new formula, or use one with a similar formulation. That, in turn, allows us to design and recommend diets in a quick, efficient manner.
The communication piece keeps a record of all our nutritionists’ work — particularly how a new diet was set up with a customer. There’s so much information, the database generates reports that we can use to really understand our business. I think my work on this database will remain one of my biggest achievements.
What are your professional goals?
I used to be a lot more ambitious and considered becoming a professor pursuing my own research interests. In my role as a nutritionist, I shifted to helping researchers with their important work. I have a happy life, spend time with my family, and established balance between my career and personal life.
What are some of your favorite things to do?
I practice and teach yoga. I became an instructor to help share the peace and positivity that comes from doing yoga with others. I was so ambitious for so much of my life, that stress got to me. Yoga helped me manage my stress, recover my health, and gave me my life back. I love going for bike rides with my family. I also love to go hiking and walking our adopted dog.
If you have a question for Jessica, or you're interested in learning more about our laboratory animal diets capabilities, please contact us.