Challenge 7

Rodent Little Brother

Launched Phase 1 awarded Phase 2 awarded Completed

The aim of this Challenge is to develop an automated, minimally-invasive or non-surgical system to assess activity, behaviour and interaction of at least two mice in the cages and setting the animals were reared in.

Publication

Bains RS, Wells S, Sillito RR, et al. (2018). Assessing mouse behaviour throughout the light/dark cycle using automated in-cage analysis tools. Journal of neuroscience methods 300: 37-47. doi.org/10.1016/j.jneumeth.2017.04.014.

Public engagement

Dr Sara Wells, MRC Harwell, spoke about the Rodent Little Brother Challenge at the Pint of Science event in Oxford.

 

Publication

Bains RS, Cater HL, Sillito RR, et al. (2016). Analysis of individual mouse activity in group housed animals of different inbred strains using a novel automated home cage analysis system. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience 10: 106. doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00106.

Webinar

Inside Scientific webinar

24/7 Automated Behavior Tracking for Rodent Safety Pharmacology and Phenotype.

Product launched

ActualHCATM  is a 24/7 automated monitoring system for socially grouped animals in their home-cages.

Challenge completed

Actual Analytics, in collaboration with Challenge Sponsors MRC Harwell, has developed the innovation Home Cage Analyser (HCA) system, which provides 24/7 minimally-invasive, automated recording and analysis of the activity, social interactions and behaviour (eating, drinking and climbing) of individual mice housed socially in their home cage. The system offers major animal welfare and scientific benefits through obtaining data without removing the animals from their social group. 

Phase 2 awarded

A team led by Professor Douglas Armstrong, Actual Analytics, has been awarded £500k to deliver the project: A Brave New Homecage.

Phase 1 awarded

Three Phase 1 Awards were made to project teams led by:

  • Professor Douglas Armstrong, Actual Analytics, £100,000.
  • Dr Valter Tucci, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, £99,150.
  • Professor York Winter, PhenoSys GmbH, £100,000.

Challenge launched

Sponsored by MRC Harwell, the Rodent Little Brother Challenge aims to develop an automated, minimally-invasive or non-surgical system to assess activity, behaviour and interaction of at least two mice in the cages and setting the animals were reared in.

Background

Many common nervous system disorders, often the subject of intense research using laboratory animals, are associated with behavioural, locomotor and social deficits in humans. Several of these express multiple phenotypes that are currently assessed using batteries of mouse tests. For example, Huntington’s disease models express locomotor and learning deficits whereas mouse mutants in genes associated with schizophrenia often exhibit hyperactivity with cognitive disturbances. In order to measure these characteristics systematically and assess the validity of animal models a number of developments have led to a reassessment of how neurological and behavioural phenotyping are carried out. These include: 

  • Specialist cages for tracking activity.
  • Phenotyping equipment allowing one to measure a range of behavioural and physical attributes e.g. social interactions, dominance, anxiety.
  • Advanced software systems and algorithms for data interpretation.

Much of the sophisticated equipment and software which is available requires animals (mostly mice) to be placed in either a novel environment or single housing which may both compromise and confound model validation in addition to being detrimental to animal welfare.

Novel environment

Many current tests involve removing animals from their usual environment and placing them in a piece of equipment to monitor their activity e.g. the rotarod to measure locomotion. Recently, much publicity has been given to available ‘home cage’ systems. However, many of those available on the market are not the same as the caging animals are reared in. Mice have to be removed from their true home cage and are often placed in unfamiliar cages in different rooms, with different enrichment regimes and handlers.

Single housing

Almost none of the equipment available on the market allows the simultaneous tracking of multiple animals and requires mice to be singly housed for the period of the test. Social isolation (singly housing) has been reported to affect mouse behaviours. Moreover, it is difficult, impractical and disruptive to rehouse male mice into groups after an experiment.

3Rs benefits

The development of an automated, non-surgical system will impact on refinement and reduction of studies using mouse models of nervous system disorders. These are disease models where pain, suffering and lasting harm can be difficult to assess and where earlier humane endpoints and interventions are needed. Additionally, animals would not need to be moved to unfamiliar cages or be singly housed for testing. Fewer animals would be needed because less variable data would be obtained from individuals.

The caging system used by MRC Harwell, the sponsor of this Challenge, is the most common in the UK and represents large potential for uptake of the solution. More broadly, the technology could impact in other fields e.g. metabolism, where mechanisms leading to weight changes (altered activity or food intake) could be investigated.

Phase 1 winners

Project teams led by:

  • Professor Douglas Armstrong, Actual Analytics, £100,000.
  • Dr Valter Tucci, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, £99,150.
  • Professor York Winter, PhenoSys GmbH, £100,000.

Phase 2 winner

Project team led by:

Full Challenge information

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Actual Analytics, in collaboration with Challenge Sponsors MRC Harwell, has developed the innovation Home Cage Analyser (HCA) system, which provides 24/7 minimally-invasive, automated recording and analysis of the activity, social interactions and behaviour (eating, drinking and climbing) of individual mice housed socially in their home cage. The system offers major animal welfare and scientific benefits through obtaining data without removing the animals from their social group.  

The system is compatible with standard IVC home cages. Each animal is tagged with an RFID chip to record location and identity using a 2D array of RFID readers that sit underneath the cage. The cage is illuminated by infrared LED lighting and a side-view HD camera captures recordings of mouse behaviour. The video and baseplate data is processed using a small computer and trained software detect specific behaviours.

Figure 1. An illustration of the Home Cage Analysis system with the key components highlighted.​

Work at MRC Harwell using the HCA system to study three commonly used mice strains has revealed novel insights into mouse social interactions, behaviour during the nocturnal period and differences in the activity of individually and group housed animals (Bains et al., 2016). It has also provided new data on the effects of genetic background on individual and group behaviour which could influence the further interpretation of studies using these mice. 

Actual Analytics has also developed a HCA system for rats through the Rodent Big Brother CRACK IT Challenge.

The HCA system for mice and rats is commercially available to purchase from Actual Analytics. For more information about the HCA system, please visit the Actual Analytics website or alternatively contact Actual Analytics here.

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ActualHCATM

Product description

The Actual Home Cage Analysis system represents the newest and most exciting technology available in rodent behavioural research. In the past, measuring locomotor activity in rodents meant they had to be housed singly in bespoke arenas. The depth of analysis was limited to the designated hours of observation, meaning researchers obtained nothing more than a limited snapshot of the rodents’ activity and behaviour.

With ActualHCATM, it is possible to gather data on a 24/7 basis in the least invasive way possible, while the rodents remain in the same home cage. The system provides an automated analysis of discrete behaviours, functions and activities of individuals within their normal social setting. Up to five animals can be monitored in a single home cage.

Testing within the home cage is suitable for a number of interest areas, including but not limited to:

  • Detecting and assessing safety/toxicological effects of candidate drugs.
  • Behavioural phenotyping of genetically altered animals.
  • Drug efficacy studies.
  • Studies of circadian rhythms.
  • Studies of social interactions.

3Rs benefits

Refinement: The behavioural data collected is entirely non-invasive and based on observing group behaviour in the home cage.

Reduction: The quantity of longitudinal data gathered provides additional statistical power, meaning fewer animals are required.

 

Features

24/7 recording and analysis

Data is recorded round the clock for up to a year or more if required so you can be sure every behaviour is being captured.

A real home cage


This isn’t just a cage you can home your rodents in, it really is their home cage. The HCA system fits into your standard IVC racks regardless of the type of caging you currently have. There is no need to modify existing caging.

Multiple data levels


The system collects data on various levels, locomotor, functional and behavioural. This includes discrete behaviours as well as circadian rhythm and locomotor data.

You can find out more about this product on the Actual Analytics website.