Dutch consortium to develop new technology for automated behavioral phenotyping

Lucas Noldus lu.do at planet.nl
Thu Apr 1 18:53:20 EST 2004


Dutch consortium to develop new technology for automated behavioral
phenotyping
Neuro-Bsik Mouse Phenomics project takes off to define novel mouse models
for brain disorders
Amsterdam - Rotterdam - Utrecht - Wageningen - Horst, 20 March 2004 - A
consortium of leading Dutch neuroscience institutes and corporations has
launched a major research initiative named "Neuro-Bsik Mouse Phenomics:
defining novel mouse models for brain disorders". The project will develop a
new knowledge infrastructure that combines intelligent, high-throughput
(HTP) screening of large numbers of mice with subsequent in-depth
low-throughput (LTP) analyses of selected mutants. One of the key
deliverables of the project is a new system for automated behavioral
phenotyping of mice in the home cage. The 4-year project, with a total
budget of 26 million euro, has received 50% funding from the Dutch
government's BSIK program. The consortium partners will invest the other
half of the budget.

Brain disorders - Brain disorders are recognized as the most expensive and
disabling diseases of the new century. The impact on the quality of life is
arguably larger than for any other class of diseases and the economic burden
of absenteeism and discontinued employability is formidable. Despite the
enormous potential of the world market, pharmaceutical companies have
typically had little success in developing treatments. Our limited
understanding of the human brain and its poor accessibility for
investigation frustrates the analysis of how brain diseases develop and how
such developments may be counteracted. Studies on rodent model organisms
have made crucial contributions to our current understanding of the brain
and can be used to investigate many aspects of human brain disease. In
contrast to humans, brains of model organisms can be accessed and challenged
and we can analyze how diseases develop and might be treated. Due to the
revolution in transgenesis and biotechnology of the past decades we are now
entering the post-genomics era in which tens of thousands of mouse mutants
will become available. As many of these mutants are showing brain disorders
that mimic those of humans in terms of both genotype and phenotype, this
development provides an excellent opportunity to create new directions in
studying the human brain and its disorders and to create significant new
economic activities in the biomedical-pharmaceutical sector.

Mouse phenotyping - The consortium plans to exploit the upcoming
availability of many mouse mutants by specifically selecting those mutants
that exhibit behavioral abnormalities relevant for human brain diseases.
Subsequently, the selected mice can be analyzed in depth using all the
typical advantages of this model organism. In order for this approach to be
scientifically and economically successful, the consortium will develop
powerful, automated yet intelligent screening procedures, that are currently
not available, to select a single relevant mutant from a collection of
thousands. Due to the complexity of the brain, analyzing these mutants will
involve multiple, complex and interconnected investigations at different
levels ranging from studies of individual nerve cells to behavior.

HTP and LTP screening - The consortium will set up a new knowledge
infrastructure that combines intelligent, high-throughput (HTP) screening of
large numbers of mice with subsequent in-depth low-throughput (LTP) analyses
of selected mutants. We aim to replace current fragmented HTP screening
protocols by a new automated home cage technology that will allow
investigation of mutants in an integrative fashion in a more natural
environment such that their normal performances can optimally flourish while
their dysfunctions become more apparent. This new technology, being
developed by Noldus Information Technology in close collaboration with
scientists at Utrecht University, is not only faster and cheaper but also
more reliable, complete, and animal-friendly. The subsequent LTP in-depth
analyses of underlying neuropathological mechanisms will occur for selected
mutants at the cellular, microcircuitry and systems level with advanced
high-tech methods and instruments. In conjunction, the HTP and LTP analyses
are expected to grow into an internationally accepted standard and to
generate significant economic benefits by yielding novel, well characterized
models for known and hidden human brain diseases as well as novel drug
targets.

National partnership - The consortium consists of five Dutch scientific
research institutes and two commercial companies. The participating
neuroscience groups are recognized as leaders in the international field of
phenotyping rodent models, and as a whole they cover the entire spectrum
from peripheral disorders and motor systems to cognition and memory
dysfunctions.

  a.. Erasmus University Medical Center, represented by the departments of
Neuroscience (Prof. Dr. C.I. de Zeeuw, Dr. Y. Elgersma, Dr. J.G.G. Borst)
and Cell Biology and Genetics (Dr. ir. N.J. Galjart, Dr. G.T.J. van der
Horst)
  b.. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, represented by the departments of
Functional Genomics (Prof. Dr. M. Verhage), Experimental Neurophysiology
(Prof. Dr. A.B. Brussaard) and Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology (Prof.
Dr. A.B. Smit)
  c.. Utrecht University, represented by the department of Animals, Science
and Society (Prof. Dr. B.M. Spruijt)
  d.. University of Amsterdam, represented by the Swammerdam Institute for
Life Sciences (Prof. Dr. C.M.A. Pennartz)
  e.. Netherlands Ophthalmic Research Institute (Dr. C.N. Levelt)
  f.. Harlan Netherlands, the Dutch branch of Harlan Sprague-Dawley Inc.
(www.harlan.com), a leading supplier of laboratory animals and preclinical
services.
  g.. Noldus Information Technology (www.noldus.com), an innovative
developer of software and instrumentation for animal behavior research.
Operating from offices in The Netherlands, Germany and U.S.A, the company
serves universities, research institutes and pharmaceutical companies in
more than 75 countries.

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Contact for more information:

Eric Meijer, consortium manager
Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Phone: +31-10-4087571

Fax: +31-10-4089457
E-mail: e.j.c.meijer at erasmusmc.nl







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