History

Dr Matt Harrison performs a nutritional balancing act

 

Diet and health are as interlinked in dogs as they are in humans. So it makes sense to study all the critical elements of the canine diet to understand how they affect wellbeing. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, so make a vital contribution to healthy nutrition. They fall into two groups: some are ‘non-essential’, which means they can made in the body, but a smaller number are classed as ‘essential’. These can’t be synthesised internally and must be included in the daily diet. One such amino acid is methionine. It’s a critically important for many bodily processes. In the dog, it is used in the formation of another amino acid called taurine. Perhaps best known as an ingredient in energy drinks, taurine is utilised during exercise and when under stress. It’s also important for maintaining heart health. Ensuring that there is the right amount of methionine in pet food so that dogs can produce sufficient taurine is vital to good canine health. Too much methionine will place stress on the body’s biological systems, causing them to work overtime to use up the excess. However too little will have damaging, even potentially fatal, effects.

 
 
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Dr. Matt Harrison is the Senior Researcher in our Nutrition and Health team tasked with investigating the appropriate levels of methionine in pet food. Matt joined this ongoing study when he arrived at Waltham. “I joined Mars from academia around two years ago and took over this project from a fellow researcher. Being handed the reins of a study after it has started comes with its own challenges, which I enjoyed.”

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“My first degree was in Applied Biology at Northumbria University in Newcastle. It sparked my passion for the immune system and ultimately drove me to start a research career by undertaking a doctorate at Nottingham University. My PhD focused on low protein diets during pregnancy in rats and whether they affected the susceptibility to cardiovascular disease in the following two generations. After this, I took a post-doctoral position at Birmingham University investigating cardiovascular health. The particular focus was on the movement of white blood cells across epithelial barriers of blood vessels.”

“Though I thoroughly enjoyed my research positions, I reached a point where I wanted to push my career to the next level. In academia this would have meant moving in to a teaching role, but I knew that wasn’t for me. Instead I looked for somewhere that I could focus on driving my own projects and developing further as a researcher, which is when I found Waltham.”

“I now work on a wide portfolio of projects and oversee the immune research program. Although I am less involved in the data collection than during my academic work, this allows me the time to get involved in more studies. Within Mars, I have the opportunity to work with a range of different scientists, each with their own unique skill sets”.

“We now have the initial results from our work on amino acids. Dogs fed lower levels of dietary methionine (whilst maintaining the total sulphur amino acid level) were able to form adequate levels of taurine in their bodies. These results are a great step forward in optimising the canine dietary balance, making sure we are giving them the very best nutrition”.

 
 
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