Solution: Reducing animal use in tasks of memory

Spontaneous recognition tasks are used extensively in studies of Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions (including normal ageing) where memory loss and decline in cognitive function are consequences of the condition. These tests are slow and use large numbers of animals (usually rodents) to overcome the high degree of variability produced by running one animal per trial, as is the case with the current models.

Dr Alexander Easton from Durham University has, through an NC3Rs-funded PhD studentship, developed a novel apparatus that has the potential to reduce animal use by up to 50% and improve animal welfare in a widely used task to assess memory in animals. Based on published research, this has the potential to reduce animal numbers by nearly 5000 a year. In addition, the increased reliability of the task is likely to increase the number of studies that reach publication, meaning a reduction in lost data from animal studies. The apparatus allows multiple trials by a single animal to be run in a single session with no handling between trials. This produces a significant reduction in animal numbers required on this task and the lack of handling reduces stress in the animals. This allows these tasks to be more widely used in experimental settings, with both greater throughput of data and more subtle changes in behaviour able to be observed. The model has been developed and validated in rats, and has demonstrated the potential for reducing animal use. But to exploit the technology to its fullest potential across industry and maximise the 3Rs impact the apparatus needs to be applicable to mice and automated to allow the animals to carry out studies with minimal handling.

Through CRACK IT Solutions, Dr Easton has developed and showcased a technology ‘pitch’ describing the scientific and 3Rs benefits of his research, and the need for a collaborative partner to help develop the apparatus further. Recognising the potential impact of the apparatus, GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to work with Dr Easton to develop the model for industry application and provide key support to the project. This includes provision of expertise on developing the model for industry application, and the provision of animals and compounds for validating the apparatus. CRACK IT Solutions funding is supporting this research and has enabled Dr Easton to access matched funds from Durham University to increase the scope of the research project and maximise the chances of success.

The project began in early 2014.