Suzette Tardif

Suzette Tardif, Ph.D.

Professor, SNPRC Associate Director of Research | Population Health, Southwest National Primate Research Center

Research Focus

Dr. Tardif is Associate Director of Research and Senior Management Team member for SNPRC and has extensive experience coordinating large, integrated research projects throughout her professional career. She served as the marmoset expert for the team charged with sequencing the marmoset genome and as the species expert for recent studies on development of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS cell) technologies.

Her research is focused on metabolism, behavior and reproduction and, most recently, on the characterization of the marmoset as a model for obesity and aging.

Dr. Tardif has more than 30 years of expertise in the development of common marmoset monkeys as biomedical models in diverse areas including:

  • Reproductive biology
  • Infectious disease
  • Neuroscience
  • Aging and obesity

In The Lab

Pediatric obesity. My laboratory has identified and characterized the first, spontaneous model of pediatric obesity in a nonhuman primate (NHP). The common marmoset is the only nonhuman primate demonstrated to routinely become obese early in life. This pediatric obesity is associated with high growth rates of both lean and fat mass, similar to the common pattern of human pediatric obesity, with earlier weaning to solid food, and with differences in post- weaning feeding behavior. While marmoset pediatric obesity occurs spontaneously (without the feeding of high fat diets), the availability of a diet that includes high-fat choices increases the occurrence of marmoset pediatric obesity and causes obesity to be prevalent earlier in infancy. This early-life obesity in marmosets is associated with evidence of insulin resistance, mirroring the effects of early life obesity in human children. Our findings point to the common marmoset as a valuable tool to study obesity, particularly pediatric obesity.

Aging. Our group studies the effect of aging interventions on the healthspan and lifespan of a primate.

We have developed the marmoset as an efficient model to study NHP aging. The use of the marmoset as a nonhuman animal model to screen aging interventions represents a major innovation in aging research and allows investigators to test the effects of interventions in a primate in a relatively short time at reasonable costs.

The marmoset is the only commonly used NHP model in which longitudinal studies of adequate life span expanse can be conducted within a five-year period. The Intervention Testing Program of the Barshop Institute reported in 2009 on the first pharmaceutical intervention to reliably increase lifespan in a rodent model, (touted as one of the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2009 by Science). Translation of this important finding to improving human health depends on testing for both efficacy and side-effects in a model more closely related to humans. The SNPRC and Barshop Institute collaborated in a study on the effects of a 14-month exposure to Rapamycin in marmosets. Our groups were able to rapidly and reliably dose socially housed marmosets with a well-tolerated oral form of Rapamycin that results in suppression of the mTOR pathway and that indicates no increased risk for hyperglycemia or insulin resistance.

Genome sequencing. To expand the common marmoset as a valuable research model, we need to develop new cellular and molecular tools specific for this species. The process of selection of the marmoset for genome sequencing was initiated with submission of a white paper co-authored by me, and I provided the material used for the sequencing and served as the species expert on the panel that assessed notable findings from the genome sequence, including a possible basis for the evolved miniaturization in this species, a refined understanding of the evolution of primate microRNAs, and a possible genetic basis for the derived feature of twinning, a finding that may be applied to better understanding of twinning in humans.

Main Technologies And Methods Used

  • Marmoset model development
  • Ultrasonography
  • Open circuit respirometry
  • Behavioral testing