STSM Grant Report – Leonie Miriam Pakulat

Details of the STSM

Title: Improving biomedical research by automated behaviour monitoring in the animal home-cage (TEATIME)

Start and end date: 15/05/2023 to 22/05/2023

Description of the work carried out during the STSM

I visited the Laboratory Animal Science Group (LAS) at the University of Porto under the supervision of Nuno Franco for one week. During my visit I have been shown the in-house developed automated cages for mice and met with the engineering student who has developed this system to understand its components, as well as discussing the needs for my own project and how this would differ from the existing system. The system is built to accommodate read outs for body temperate, ambient temperature and humidity, as well as movement patterns of the mice requiring a sophisticated system of 6 coils embedded in a 3D printer frame detecting implanted radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags by switching on and off in a loop fashion, as well as data storage and transmission. For the proposed project, measuring body temperature in adult female mice to determine whether their estrous cycle stages can be identified, not all functions will necessary. It will require only one or two temperature measurements during a 2-hour time window and other features integrated into the existing system are not needed. This will allow for a significant simplification of hardware structures. Optimisation factors, such as placement of a single coil, location of the RFID tags on the mice and local data storage have been discussed. With input from Nuno Franco and others I have come up with a protocol for a pilot experiment to test proof of concept at the home institute (University of Cambridge). I have become familiar with the equipment needed and identified suppliers in the United Kingdom (UK). Additionally, I have had a chance to see current research within the group and to learn about considerations when designing experiments involving temperature measurements, in this case in mouse pups using a thermal camera and using RFID tags in wild hedgehogs.