Members of the Nutrition and Metabolic Research Core, from left: Demsina Babazadeh, Kristina Metzler, Karen Yee and Kelly Fallon

Members of the Nutrition and Metabolic Research Core, from left: Demsina Babazadeh, Kristina Metzler, Karen Yee and Kelly Fallon

It’s no secret that the Brigham is a research powerhouse. But what some faculty and staff might be less familiar with is the hospital’s robust, in-house support structure for clinical research — an offering designed to aid Brigham investigators during each stage of their work.

As part of its many support services — including Investigational Drug Services, Clinical Skills Training and Phlebotomy — the Center of Clinical Investigation (CCI) is home to the Brigham’s Nutrition and Metabolic Research Core, which aims to advance nutrition research as an integral component of its overall research studies.

“The Nutrition Core was, is and will remain critical for the success of intensive and long-term, in-laboratory metabolic, sleep and circadian studies like ours,” said Frank Scheer, PhD, of the Division of Sleep Medicine, who has worked with the team on trials for more than 15 years. “These studies require the know-how, experience and
dedication of a nutrition team to provide calculated meals before and during these in-laboratory protocols that last days, weeks and sometimes months, as well as support for energy expenditure assessments, meal-pattern tracking and nutritional analysis.”

The Nutrition Core collaborates with investigators like Scheer to provide research diets, collection and analysis of nutrition-intake data and patient nutrition-assessment services, working closely with the CCI inpatient, outpatient and distributed campus facilities. The team also translates nutrition research findings for health professionals and public health policy and application, and makes equipment previously reserved only for research — such as indirect calorimeters, which assess a person’s resting metabolic rate — available to outpatients through the CCI Nutrition Clinic.

The Secret Sauce

Situated on the ninth floor of the Tower is a diet office and state-of- the-art metabolic test kitchen used to prepare controlled-nutrient diets for research participants, inpatients and outpatients. Advanced infrastructure and streamlined operations like these are just a few of the features that help differentiate the Brigham’s Nutrition Core from other research centers.

“We have an extra level of intricacy in our processes to precisely monitor and control food intake among participants,” said Demsina Babazadeh, MPH, RD, LDN, CNSC, director of Nutrition and Metabolic Research, noting that her team provides all services in accordance with research study and design, protocol order and participant requirements.

Combined, the team — which comprises registered dietitian nutritionists and metabolic technicians — has more than 80 years of experience in nutrient-controlled diet production and more than 40 years’ worth of nutrition research, design and implementation experience.

Flagship Studies

The Nutrition and Metabolic Research Core has played a key role in several large-scale feeding trials, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study, a landmark trial that established the wide-ranging health benefits of a diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat, sodium and sugar. During the study, which took place in the mid-1990s, the Nutrition Core helped develop menus for a seven-day cycle consisting of 21 meals at four calorie levels. The team also provided similar support for the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health (OmniHeart) trial, which compared the original DASH diet against two variations of it to see which yielded the greatest benefits.

“Working on these DASH follow-up studies has been very rewarding from a health-professional standpoint,” said Karen Yee, MS, RDN, LDN, senior research dietitian. “These findings continue to be the basis of our nutritional recommendations and helping expand upon and evolve that work is one of the main reasons I enjoy working in research; it allows me to play a pivotal role in what my colleagues will recommend to their patients.”