Challenge: Rodent Big Brother

Animals used in safety pharmacology studies inform the decision to progress new drugs further in the drug development process towards the clinic. The temperature and activity of these animals are recorded to monitor their welfare and the effects of the study compound. Behaviour is monitored by trained scientists using singly housed animals, often held in bespoke cages and temperature is monitored in separate study animals using surgically invasive telemetry systems. Scientists from AstraZeneca worked with the NC3Rs on a Challenge to develop a system that avoids the need for surgery or single housing, reduces the number of animals needed for a study, delivers welfare benefits to the animals used and, through the incorporation of additional measurements into existing study types, reduces the number of studies needed overall.

Challenge winners Actual Analytics, a spin out company from the University of Edinburgh that specialises in machine learning and computer vision technologies, have worked with AstraZeneca and the NC3Rs to develop a system that combines RFID-chip derived information with video recording of behaviour in standard rat home cage racks used in a regulatory toxicology laboratory for up to 30 days. Cages are illuminated with infra-red LED lighting to ensure normal night/ day cycles are maintained and a baseplate under the cage tracks the identity and activity of study animals. Video processing is done by a mini-computer local to the rack system and trained software detects specific behaviours.

Due to launch in the autumn of 2014, this Challenge product aims to become the standard approach for safety pharmacology studies and will develop its application to other areas of the biosciences where rodent behaviour and activity are studied.

Read the original Challenge brief for Rodent Big Brother.