10 years of CRACK IT webinar: Rodent behavioural monitoring... what have you been missing?

  • NC3Rs
Wednesday 12 May 2021 14:00 to 15:00

The webinar recording is now available to watch online.

This webinar forms part of the CRACK IT 10 year anniversary celebrations and will showcase the Home Cage Analyser (HCA) system, which enables continuous monitoring of group-housed rats or mice in their home cage with automated analysis of their behaviour and activity. The HCA was developed to address the 2011 Rodent Big Brother CRACK IT Challenge (sponsored by AstraZeneca) and adapted for mice as part of the 2012 Rodent Little Brother Challenge (sponsored by MRC Harwell).

The HCA system provides unobtrusive, continuous monitoring of group-housed rodents, refining animal use by avoiding the need for single housing and allowing testing in the familiar home cage environment. It can be incorporated into standard vivarium racks and measures the position, activity and temperature of individual animals who have been tagged with subcutaneous RFID chips. These are tracked using a baseplate containing a series of RFID antennae. Behavioural data is obtained using high-grade video recording and infrared LED lighting placed above the cage. The video analysis software has been trained to automatically detect specific behaviours.

The HCA system is widely applicable: it has been used in safety pharmacology studies for assessing the central nervous system toxicity of drugs, in neurological disease research, and in mouse phenotyping programmes. During this webinar, which is free to attend, you will hear from one of the developers of the HCA and an end-user whose work has benefitted from the technology. There will be an opportunity to ask questions after the webinar presentation.


  • Professor Douglas Armstrong, Professor of Systems Neurobiology at the University of Edinburgh and Co-founder of Actual Analytics, the company that commercialises the HCA system developed to address the Rodent Big and Little Brother Challenges. Douglas will describe the technology development and validation process, how CRACK IT supported this and how the system is being applied across multiple disciplines and sectors.

  • Dr Sonia Bains, Phenotyping Technical Developer at MRC Harwell, which posed the Rodent Little Brother Challenge. Sonia will describe the rationale behind the Challenge and how MRC Harwell have applied the HCA system within their mouse phenotyping programme. She will also describe the wider scientific and 3Rs benefits of the HCA compared to traditional approaches.


The Rodent Big Brother Challenge, sponsored by AstraZeneca and launched in 2011, aimed to develop an automated non-surgical system to measure the activity and temperature of rats over a minimum of 24 hours, for use in safety pharmacology studies to assess potential drug toxicities on the central nervous system. AstraZeneca posed the Challenge to address the welfare concerns associated with traditional locomotor and behavioural monitoring approaches, which require animals to be singly housed in unfamiliar test arenas or are carried out during the daytime when rats are naturally less active. Depending on the company and the drug being tested, up to 100 rats may be used per drug in such studies. Funding to solve this Challenge was awarded to a team led by Professor Douglas Armstrong, who developed the Actual HCA system.

Professor Armstrong and his team were awarded further funding through the Rodent Big Brother Challenge, posed by MRC Harwell in 2012, to adapt the HCA for use with mice. The system has revealed new insights into mouse social interactions and behaviour, which has major implications for the interpretation of scientific findings, the choice of strain and the welfare of mice used in research.

Further information about the Home Cage Analyser system can be found on the NC3Rs Innovation Platform.