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Novel Tools and Devices for Animal Research Facilities and to Support Care of Animal Models (R43/R44 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)


Many NIH-funded research projects rely on vertebrate and invertebrate animal models to study the basics of biology and physiology, to investigate pathological conditions, to examine disease mechanisms and treatments, and to design novel therapies and translational procedures. In this regard, the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (ORIP) plays a vital role through its support of research infrastructures and animal models of human diseases. With this FOA, ORIP encourages applications from small business concerns (SBCs) for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) projects to develop and implement novel tools and devices to improve animal welfare, to ease the management of individual animals and animal colonies, and to improve the monitoring and control of environmental conditions (e.g., temperature, humidity, vibrations, and ultrasonic noise) which affect outcomes and reproducibility in animal model research. Poor reproducibility of experiments that use animal models has negatively impacted biomedical research for many decades. The difficulty of improving reproducibility can be realized when considering the broad range of intrinsic factors (e.g., age, species, health status, and sex) and extrinsic factors (e.g., climate, illumination, physical restraints, odors, and noise) that can affect the physiological and biological response of animals. The variation of extrinsic factors between different animal facilities has been cited as a source of irreproducibility in animal research. Often, different laboratory animals require different environmental conditions for their optimal growth and well-being. Also, the amount and type of pathogens, or pollutants in a facility can influence the physiological response and welfare of animals. Even small differences in the handling and diets of animals can affect their physiological response. Accurate accounting for and monitoring of these factors can reduce variations between experiments and lead to improvements in animal model validations and translatability to human studies. To consistently maintain an optimal environment for research animals, there is a need for devices in animal facilities that can precisely and accurately monitor the environmental conditions, especially those that are challenging to account for such as humidity, vibrations, odors, and ultrasonic noise. Ideally, these devices will facilitate innovative and efficient operational procedures that utilize novel and green technologies to control and optimize the environmental conditions in animal facilities. Devices that can sensitively identify types and levels of various pathogens, allergens, and/or other pollutants are especially desired in environments supporting laboratory animals. The level and type of infectious agents and other contaminants are factors that often contribute to differences in the physiological response between animals in different colonies or animal research facilities. These factors are especially hard to account for when comparing and monitoring species in the same and/or different geographical locations. Additionally, needed are noninvasive or minimally invasive bio-logging devices for real-time monitoring of the behavior, food/water consumption, and bodily functions of animals. Such devices should be discreet, robust, easy to apply, and mobile, while being sensitive enough to register the physiology of different animals. Not only should these devices aid in the study and management of individual animals or entire colonies, but they should also lead to improvements in the performance of research protocols and data analysis. To implement such goals, there is a simultaneous need for new software that can combine data from different types of monitoring devices while being compatible with different data formats and linkable to existing databases. Novel devices and tools are also needed to help ease the process of handling and restraining of animals. These devices should reduce the stress to both the animals and researcher; stress is an experimental variable and must be minimized. Importantly, these devices should bring improvements in the efficiency of animal-handling practices and experimental procedures. Connecting diet, environmental conditions, and physiological measurements will provide a global picture of the health and life-history of individual animals and colonies. Properly accounting for these factors will further help to understand the effects of extrinsic factors on experimental outcomes. Innovation is an important component of productive engineering efforts; however, new ideas are not a sufficient factor for designing and building a useful tool or device. The concept of innovation in the context of engineering endeavors and non-hypothesis driven research should be understood broadly. For example, a technology which is well established in one field and adapted to a different field may open new research areas, enable novel research projects, improve experimental procedures, and have a wider impact than its original scope. These efforts are important for a broad class of animal models, including but not limited to widely used model organisms such as fruit fly, worm, mouse, rat, zebrafish, frog, rabbit, swine, and nonhuman primates amongst others. We emphasize that this FOA applies to invertebrate and vertebrate animals. Disease-specific devices are not covered under this FOA (e.g., glucose monitors, brain probes for specific neurological conditions, or cancer imaging tools). Nor are reagents and experimental protocols appropriate for this FOA. The development and implementation of novel tools and devices, and enhancement of existing equipment includes, but are not limited to, the following specific examples: Portable and robust software to help manage (including husbandry protocol procedures and assessment) and evaluate animal colonies; Reliable and discreet noninvasive or minimally invasive technology for the tracking and monitoring of animals, that either connect to or can easily communicate with existing formats and electronic management systems; Novel automated feeding systems, compatible with tagging and tracking devices to allow quantitation of feed consumption of individual animals; Devices and equipment to automate and support drug delivery by oral, subcutaneous, arterial, venous, or intracerebroventricular/intracerebral routes, and related methods to measure drug uptake and their technological implementation in species-specific devices; Robust and accurate devices for non-invasive measurement of physiological parameters such as heart rate and blood pressure in rodents and other model organism used in research; Improved systems for the collection of multi-source data (including telemetric and extrinsic variables) and their analysis for comprehensive behavioral assessment of animal models; Better devices for phenotyping at the organismal as well as at the molecular levels; Safe and improved holding, restraining, and transfer devices for routine care, and for intra-facility transport such as large animal transfer chutes and nonhuman primate restraints; Better air and water filters for metabolic cages, aquaria, and other animal facility equipment; Better bedding materials (e.g., self-displaying levels of contaminants and microorganisms, odor-absorbent, recyclable) for animals; Better and easy to use tools and devices to measure levels of pathogens and contaminants in cages, aquaria, and animal facilities; Better devices/tools/equipment to sanitize and disinfect animal facilities and related equipment. Applicants are advised to discuss their projects with the Scientific/Research contacts before submitting an application.
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