Translational Behaviour Group

Bridging the translational divide between how we measure brain disorders in animals and in the clinic.

Finding a drug to stop or slow the progression of memory decline or improve attention can feel like a game of cat and mouse for scientists. A key part of assessing the effectiveness of potential treatments is assessing how they affect memory, mood and motor function in mice, but this has traditionally been done in ways that don’t mimic the clinic.

A major hurdle is that complex brain disorders lack overt biomarkers that we can use monitor response to treatments in real-time. Clinicians largely rely on behavioural criteria. It is tricky to find adequate correlates in mice. Mice are not little people. To date, scientists have turned to measuring how mice navigate in mazes as an approximate for memory and for some domains, like attention, there are no easy ways to measure them.

Recognising the shortcomings of how we use mice to model complex brain disorders, our team use more clinically relevant tests in mice that mirror those completed in humans. Our team’s work aims to bridge the translational divide between how we measure brain disorders in animals and in the clinic. We train mice to use touchscreens to play games that are similar to the ones used to assess memory in the clinic. They are like ipads for mice. This technology allows us to obtain an impressive readout of how mice solve problems, remember and pay attention. When mice perform the task correctly they receive a little milkshake reward. We have designed tasks in our mouse clinic that directly draw from human psychological tests. We have recently designed a training schedule to get our mice to voluntarily stand still in front of the screen. This allows us to show them cues, before they respond to target and also, to measure their reaction time – a key clinical readout of brain processing. This is the first time this has been achieved with touchscreens. Our collaborators in psychology are running the same tests as we are in people, giving us the ability to draw parallels between mouse and human.

Our research currently spans both psychiatric and neurological disorders including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. We use mice with genetic mutations that have been identified in patients. We can then ask questions about how these mutations change attention, memory, motivation, mood and motor function. We are also utilising magnetic resonance imaging to track how genetic mutations change the brain on a macroscopic level. Our collaborators are experts in clinical imaging and we draw from this to enhance our ability to translate our findings back to people.

The TBL team are diverse in their backgrounds, experiences and in their working styles. We embrace a flattened hierarchy and work collaboratively on our projects. We welcome all people, are LGBTQIA+ friendly and celebrate difference as it enriches our science and our team. Currently accepting students.

Research team

Research team head

Headshot_Emma Burrows

Dr Emma Burrows

Group head