The successful development of new therapeutics for mental health conditions is very challenging and few candidates reach the point at which they can be prescribed by doctors. Many are instead found to be ineffective when evaluated in clinical trials, despite performing well in earlier stage assessments involving animal models of the targeted mental health condition.
A major contributor to this disconnect between laboratory and clinic is the considerable difference between the types of cognitive assessment used to determine the effect of the treatment in animals and in humans. This research aims to close this so-called ‘translational gap’.
This research is focused on the development of assessments for particular aspects of cognition (e.g. attention) that can be used in the same form in both humans and mice. This is possible due to pioneering work demonstrating the effectiveness of computerised human cognitive assessment and the development of touchscreen equipped rodent behavioural chambers.
Tasks are designed in which humans and mice view combinations of black and white patterns or shapes and then make decisions about whether to press or ignore them. The accuracy and speed with which they respond is recorded and these data provide an indication of cognitive performance.
Closing the ‘translational gap’ may more reliably filter out candidate therapeutics that will have no effect in humans at an earlier stage of development. This may encourage earlier re-focusing of therapeutic discovery programmes to other targets which in the process may reduce the number of animals involved in ultimately unsuccessful studies.
Rodent touchscreen studies are also highly refined, avoiding use of stressful environments and aversive stimuli and giving animals highly palatable rewards (e.g. milkshake). These features enable many aspects of cognition to be evaluated in the same animals, so reducing the number required to complete cognitive assessment studies.
Successful translation of findings between laboratory and clinic is essential to effective therapeutic development. Using touchscreen-based cognitive assessment to harmonise evaluation of patients and rodent models will make a significant contribution to facilitating this process.Dr Christopher Heath
Lecturer in Health SciencesVisit Chris's profile