Improving welfare practice in rodent studies of fatigue

Previously a laboratory animal veterinarian, NC3Rs David Sainsbury Fellow Dr Claire Richardson is now working to improve the welfare of mice used in chronic liver disease research. Dr Richardson talks about her research and how it allows her to collaborate with a variety of research groups at her local institution, Newcastle University.

What is your research about and why is this important?

My NC3Rs-funded research aims to refine the study of fatigue in mouse models of chronic liver disease by developing more sensitive, less invasive methods. This follows on from the work carried out in my PhD to develop objective methods of assessing the welfare of mice with disease.

Fatigue is a common and frequently debilitating symptom that occurs in human patients with a wide range of chronic illnesses. Unfortunately it is also very difficult to treat. Effective therapies are currently lacking, so further research is greatly needed in this area. Studies on mice can help scientists to understand why fatigue occurs and to develop effective therapies. Although critically important, these types of animal studies often have a considerable impact on the welfare of the rodents involved.

By observing groups of mice currently being used for chronic liver disease research, I hope to develop new methods of objectively detecting symptoms of fatigue.

To monitor the mice I use transponder-based automated technologies where each mouse has a small transponder (approximately the size of a grain of rice) injected under the skin. This allows mice to be non-invasively but intensively studied in social groups housed in enriched cages 24 hours-a-day for the study duration, rather than being housed individually. Home cage monitoring also has the advantage of minimising the necessity for human handling, which can cause stress.

How are you using 3Rs principles to drive your research?

I feel strongly that when we improve the welfare of laboratory animals this also improves the science of the projects the animals are involved in. This is certainly the case in my NC3Rs-funded research since when compared to conventional assessment methods, subtle signs of fatigue in animals (for example changes in exploratory behaviour) are more likely to be detected when intensively studying animals in their natural environment, where they show a more broad and natural range of behaviours.

What motivated you to become a scientist?

I have always wanted to have a career involving animals. Working previously as a laboratory animal veterinarian for five years I was able to combine my love for animals and interest in science. I became increasingly interested in the welfare of mice involved in disease studies and went on study laboratory mouse welfare in more depth in my PhD.

What was your motivation to apply for an NC3Rs David Sainsbury Fellowship?

I applied for an NC3Rs David Sainsbury Fellowship because it was a unique opportunity to carry out research in mouse welfare and be supported in disseminating the findings of my research to the wider scientific community.

How has this experience been so far?

My first year as an NC3Rs David Sainsbury Fellowship has been very interesting and productive. Although I have been an active member of the laboratory animal science community for many years, the fellowship has given me the opportunity to further integrate with several of the research groups studying disease at Newcastle University. This has increased the depth of my understanding of biomedical research and the challenges involved in developing therapies for chronic disease. In addition, it has also provided further exposure to the range of techniques used by biomedical researchers including epidemiological studies, in vitro work, computer modelling, research involving animals and clinical trials.

I have also been able to share information about the techniques used by ethologists and animal welfare scientists in our research group at the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution with the biomedical scientists I collaborate with to improve animal welfare in laboratories across the university. Finally, I have been grateful for the opportunity to interact with industrial colleagues who manufacture behavioural monitoring equipment to provide feedback on the ease of use of their products as well as any impact on animal welfare.

What is your career highlight to date?

I enjoy my research more with every day so think that my career highlight is yet to come!

 



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