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Neurobehavioural Research and Understanding the Mouse Genome

Testing on mice

 

“Less than 1/3 of the genome has been characterised and even that 1/3 is badly understood.” Dr Sarah Wells, The MRC Harwell

This quote, from our recent Inside Scientific webinar, highlights the importance of moving forward with technology like the ActualHCA. Dr Wells works at the MRC Harwell, which supports the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC). The IMPC is vital to genetic research; mice and humans are extremely similar in terms of genes. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, 4,000 genes have been studied across both species and less than 10 appear in only human or mouse. The IMPC aims to discover and ascribe biological functions to each mouse gene, allowing for the treatment of conditions found in humans that have a genetic component.

The MRC Harwell has a particular focus on neurobehavioural conditions like dementia and Parkinson’s disease. At present, over eight million people in the UK have a neurobehavioural condition and over one million are disabled as a result. There is, as Dr Wells puts it, “a massive clinical need” for new research and insight into the causes of these conditions and ways to treat them.

As it stands, the function of most genes in mice and humans is unknown. Knockouts – the technique of rendering a gene inoperative with the aim of discovering its function – have been generated and analysed in around a third of mouse genes. However, there are considerable gaps in our knowledge about even the most thoroughly documented genes.

According to Dr Wells, the data for genes is “patchy” for a number of reasons. The focus of the study being done and the interest of the investigator are just two factors that can impact the eventual results. So how can this be changed? And how can neurobehavioural conditions be better researched?

The answer, according to Dr Wells, is addressing the biggest problem that exists with studying mice: their inability to communicate. If a mouse is experiencing symptoms as part of a trial, they are unable to tell the researchers. Using standard testing methods, by the time it becomes apparent that there is an issue it is too late to try out a treatment and determine its potential success in the early stages.

Normally, mice engage in certain behaviours that indicate they are happy and healthy: digging, climbing, and nesting to name three. However, when they start experiencing symptoms of neurological disease, they start acting differently. Mice in this situation will isolate themselves, experience disturbed sleep, and display hyperactivity among other things. Being able to monitor these behaviours with the ActualHCA has the potential to revolutionise the research being done on neurobehavioural conditions.

For more details on the ActualHCA and what it does, take a look at one of our other blog posts or view the slides from our recent webinar. If you would like more information, feel free to contact us or visit the product page.