NIS Labs: Creating a New Reputation for Research
NIS Labs, Klamath Falls, OR, is a contract research laboratory that evaluates strategies to improve immune function and reduce inflammation, hence the name Natural Immune Systems, or NIS for short. Over the years, according to Gitte Jensen, PhD, research director, the company’s mission and research goals have evolved. “Today, a good part of what we do involves testing natural products in different cellular testing protocols, in contrast to chemical or analytical testing—much of this work assists our clients by providing the foundation behind mechanisms of action claims,” she said. “We believe we have a unique skill set to offer this growing industry: Solid academic research training, combined with an understanding of the special demands to research protocols necessary when working with complex natural products.”
Dr. Jensen began her career in academia, eventually establishing herself in a university research setting where she studied integrative and botanical medicine, as well as cancer. She admits the early days at NIS were challenging. “One of our biggest struggles in the beginning was feeling comfortable outside a recognized university setting. At first, we thought NIS would become an integrative medicine arm to a cancer center,” she said. But as Dr. Jensen gained more experience working with the nutraceuticals industry, she came to love its dynamics and strived to create good standard testing protocols that were practical for natural products.
These days Dr. Jensen says NIS seems to be doing more clinical pilot studies, a growing need within the industry. “The niche we like is the exploratory, creative phase, when a new product or concept needs to be moved from the bench to the human body,” she said. “Even though we may believe we know where to expect effects, we design protocols to include multiple tests, observations and questionnaires, and remain open to additional, unexpected or alternative modes of action.”
One particular area of interest for NIS is antioxidants. In fact, the company recently filed a patent application for its newly invented Cell-based Antioxidant Protection assay, or as it’s more commonly known, the CAP-e test. The CAP-e test, Dr. Jensen explained, represents a new method for evaluating the antioxidant potential of natural products based on the concept that many such antioxidant products are only of biological relevance if they are able to penetrate living cells. The advantage of choosing the erythrocyte (red blood cell) for this particular assay is that this cell type does not perform cellular signaling, undergo apoptosis or produce reactive oxygen species, whereas all other cell types used in cell-based assays can. The key aspect of the assay is that the erythrocyte is inert (i.e., does not contribute to oxidative damage by its cellular functions), which allows this assay to specifically measure those antioxidants capable of entering the cell.
This industry is at an interesting turning point, according to Dr. Jensen. “It is actually a fantastic place to be right now,” she said. “As regulatory powers try to harness and control the booming developments, the industry is realizing the power of—and the need for—proper documentation, proper research and validation of claims.”
For the future, Dr. Jensen believes tests that can be used to validate claims will be very popular. “Some tests may work as a regulatory tool. In fact, many of the tools used to validate a claim are now also being implemented to document GMP and quality assurance,” she said. “Right now I would give the industry an A- or a B+—but in order to succeed, it must continue to protect itself and appreciate the complexity and uniqueness of natural products.”—R.W.
1437 Esplanade Avenue
Klamath Falls, OR 97601