The Comparative Medicine Diet Laboratory at Wake Forest School of Medicine is a unique facility that develops custom research diets for a variety of animal models.
Susan Appt, DVM, associate professor of pathology at Wake Forest, is the scientific director of the Diet Laboratory. Under her direction, the Diet Laboratory creates custom-made, semi-purified diets for nonhuman primates and other animals used in preclinical research and helps investigators develop custom research diets tailored to meet their particular research needs.
“We have over 1,400 diets in our database to date,” says Appt, including a typical Western diet that replicates the nutrition that an average American consumes.
As a division of the Center for Comparative Medicine Research at Wake Forest, the Diet Laboratory supports scientists researching the effects of novel therapeutics on disease. In such research, feeding animal models the correct diet is crucial.
“Studies using animal models to investigate diseases and conditions important to human health need to be conducted under nutritional contexts similar to those in human populations,” Appt says. “There are many potential effects of diet on a disease and its treatment, even if you are not directly studying the effects of diet.”
Commercial laboratory chow diets meet nutrition standards, but are generally assembled by cost of ingredients, which can mean that sources and ratios of ingredients may vary between batches. Further, bioactive substances, such as soy phytoestrogens, are present in many commercial diets, and may alter study outcomes.
Appt says that some commercial companies are catching on and offering soy-free diets. At Wake Forest’s Diet Laboratory, however, any nutrient can be adjusted to individual levels, whereas with most commercial diets, the diet is set and cannot be customized. Since Wake Forest’s Diet Laboratory designs custom research diets, companies can be assured that the nutrients and ingredients in the diet do not fluctuate.
“Nutrition is important,” Appt says. “Creating appropriate diets means creating appropriate animal models for testing.”