Animal Behavior Core

Animal Behavior Core

As part of the Child Health Research Institute internal strategy, the CHRI Research Bulletin will feature a profile on one UNMC Core facility each month. This month we are featuring Animal Behavior Core and Director Mystera Samuelson, PhD.

What kind of services can you provide CHRI investigators?

The Animal Behavior Core is well-suited to provide guidance for researchers in every stage of research involving ethology and comparative cognition. Located in the Durham Research Center at UNMC, we provide researchers with the expertise, equipment and software needed to produce rigorous and reproducible research with both rats and mice.

In addition to this service, our staff has experience designing and implementing ethological and comparative cognition-based research with a wide variety of species and applications. Thus, we can also provide guidance and support in the form of research design and data analysis for other species as needed.

If an investigator wants to learn more about the services of the Animal Behavior Core, what is a good way of getting needed information?

The best way to learn about the UNMC Animal Behavior Core and how our services can benefit your unique research is to contact us to schedule a free initial consultation. You can email our director Mystera Samuelson, PhD, at  mystera.samuelson@unmc.edu. You can also visit our website for a list of services, current rates, and other information: https://www.unmc.edu/vcr/cores/vcr-cores/animal-behavior/index.html

What are the first steps toward engaging the services of the Animal Behavior Core?

The first step is to set up a free consultation to discuss your aims and objectives, current and past research and any strain-specific concerns which may impact the test(s) used. We will also then isolate the constructs we need to assess to answer your key research questions. Currently, our consultations are remote and conducted either by Zoom or by phone. This will enable us to begin working with you to address your unique goals and challenges. 

What are some common questions you get about the Animal Behavior Core and what are the answers to those questions?

Are we able to bring animals in from other facilities for the purpose of use in the core?

This is possible and is assessed on a case-by-case basis by the UNMC veterinarians. The Animal Behavior Core can help navigate this approval process by coordinating with the veterinary team to discuss any challenges that arise. We strongly suggest starting this process early to ensure that we can address any potential issues far in advance. Starting early will help us to avoid any delays in your research timeline.

Can the core provide assistance with Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) applications?

We can help you with this – in terms of describing behavioral protocols and helping you to justify the need for the study within the context of the literature and accepted methodologies in animal behavior research. However, it is important to remember that the Animal Behavior Core’s expert opinion on a topic doesn’t indicate IACUC approval. We recommend you contact your IACUC office for assistance regarding any institutional protocols or other items which may cause delays in approval of your protocol. We are happy to provide additional guidance with any requested revisions as well.

Can the Animal Behavior Core help me with my grant applications?

Absolutely! We are happy to discuss future research projects with you and provide advice regarding the design of these studies. If you intend to use the core, we are also happy to provide you with letters of support and other materials you may need for the successful submission of grant applications.

Can the core help me analyze data that I have already collected but am not sure what to do with?

Yes, we are able to help you with this! We would need detailed information regarding the animals involved in the data collection, apparatuses, cameras and software used for collection, as well as information regarding the testing environment and investigators. Once we have this information, we can discuss a data analysis plan with you with suggestions and parameters for what we can (and can’t) do with the data provided to ensure both proper analysis of the data, as well as proper interpretation of the results.

Can you provide guidance for projects involving animal behavior studies conducted elsewhere?

Absolutely. We provide separate fees for project design, data analysis and other services, so even if your animals are to be housed elsewhere, the core can still help you develop your research program, provided that the animals are housed at an accredited institution with a demonstrated history of excellence in animal care and welfare. If you have questions or concerns regarding this policy, please feel free to contact Dr. Samuelson.

What biosafety level is the core?

We are equipped to conduct behavioral studies with ABSL-1 animals, and on a case-by-case basis, with ABSL-2 animals. If you are interested in conducting ABSL-2 work in the core, this will be something that we need to discuss with our veterinary team for approval ahead of time to ensure your work is not delayed.

What is the main thing you hope readers take away from your profile in the CHRI Research Bulletin about Animal Behavior Core?

Research in animal behavior and cognition is driven by the constructs measured and species studied. Thus, a thorough consultation is necessary for the core to help investigators develop a reasonable approach to assessing key behavioral and cognitive constructs. Both behavioral and cognitive constructs are relevant to the study species’ unique evolutionary history, sensory capabilities, and physiology. Once we have had this meeting and identified the investigators’ needs and interests, we can begin to develop and implement rigorous and innovative research protocols, with a focus on reproducibility and publication-quality results.

The main takeaway we hope investigators will get from this article is that the UNMC Animal Behavior Core is a versatile and dynamic research facility which can benefit investigators through the provision of expertise, specialized equipment and procedural space for use with mice and rats, as well as applied expertise and hands-on training/assistance with other species such as swine, nonhuman primates and other species.