Behavioral & Motion Tracking Studies
Department of Pathology
In this proposal we are requesting the purchase of a software suite (Noldus EthoVision XT) for the automated tracking of animal behaviors in a wide variety of disease models. The software would significantly expand the capabilities of the aquatics core facility at the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM) at the South Lake Union School of Medicine and thus, provide students a significant advantage in their research projects. Analyzing animal behaviors in controlled environments is an impactful strategy to study the mechanisms of disorders such as autism, epilepsy, or Alzheimer’s or to test novel therapeutic approaches. For example, changes in stereotypical behaviors such as social contacts, aggression or exploration are clear indicators of alteration in brain function. Researchers are using these approaches as a powerful way to study the genetics, physiology or pharmacology of diseases in academic research laboratories as well as in pharmaceutical companies. In particular, screening behaviors in zebrafish is gaining more and more popularity. Their small size of only a few millimeters enables us to potentially screen hundreds of animals in parallel which allows for more conclusive results in a shorter amount of time. However, manual analysis of stereotypical behaviors is time intensive, and could introduce observational bias. In fact, analyzing animal behaviors can require significantly more time than the actual experiment. In contrast, advanced automatic tracking will reduce the workload of behavioral analysis and thus, would allow students to significantly extend the scope of their projects by conducting more experiments in the same amount of time. Furthermore, the software suite is universally applicable and can be used for disease modeling in rodents as well. Therefore, we will make it available for students beyond ISCRM to benefit research across multiple departments. The ISCRM Aquatics Core is currently used by 11 laboratories at South lake Union with more than 60 undergraduate and graduate students. We can house more than 50,000 zebrafish and provide training for animal handling and space for experimental procedures. We have already trained more than 50 students and facilitated their projects by providing our expertise in developing conclusive research strategies. As a result, more than 30 research articles have been published in scientific journals with many more presentations at conferences which helped to expose our students to the research community. In addition, 9 laboratories on the main campus are utilizing zebrafish research with additional 70 laboratories conducting behavioral experiments in rodents. Therefore, we will make the software available to students in these labs and offer access to state-of-the-art behavioral analysis of vertebrate disease models through our core. Therefore, we would like to purchase two Noldus EthoVision XT USB hardware keys with all unlocked diagnostic modules to offer all available analysis options. These purchases will significantly improve the students ability to resolve fine movements and social cues in biological systems such as zebrafish and mice. Jeanot Muster--the director of the aquatics core--will train students and maintain the software. He will also help with planning and designing experiments, and optimize the use of the software.