The animal facilities at the Brain and Mind Centre adhere to the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes. The purpose of the Code is to ensure the ethical and humane care and use of animals for scientific purposes and applies to the Brain and Mind Centre as an institute, investigators, teachers, the Animal Ethics Committee (AEC), and all people involved in the care and use of animals for scientific purposes.
Animals may not be held, and projects must not commence until written approval has been received from the AEC. The Committee is composed of approximately 14 people. Two members are lay people, three members represent animal welfare organisations and three members are veterinarians. The remaining members are animal researchers and are drawn from the biological, medical, and behavioural sciences.
The Code emphasizes the responsibilities of investigators, teachers and institutions using animals to:
- Ensure that the use of animals is justified, taking into consideration the scientific or educational benefits and the potential effects on the welfare of the animals;
- Ensure the welfare of animals is always considered;
- Promote the development and use of techniques that replace the use of animals in scientific and teaching activities;
- Minimize the number of animals used in projects; and
- Refine methods and procedures to avoid pain or distress in animals used in scientific and teaching activities.
These principles are considered when both designing and carrying out projects.
- Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is a dementing disease which affects aged dogs. CCD has many behavioural, pathological and pharmacological similarities to Alzheimer’s disease in humans and as such, is being developed as a useful model for research into this area. A validated diagnostic tool is being developed for use in dogs that will not only allow better identification and treatment of the disease in dogs but will also facilitate therapeutic trials for potential Alzheimer’s treatments.
- Investigating the neural circuitry that regulates decision-making by studying how well rats modelling various cognitive impairments are able to learn and remember tasks such as pressing levers for food or responding to stimuli such as auditory tones or lights. This work is helping to shed new light on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and other dementias, psychotic illnesses, drug addiction and mood disorders.
- Developing cutting-edge technology enabling the imaging of awake and freely-moving small animals. This technology will be useful for clinical imaging of babies, young children and older people unable to remain still for medical imaging.
- Ménière’s Disease is characterised by random attacks of severe rotational vertigo, fluctuating and progressive hearing loss, as well as tinnitus and a feeling of constant pressure in the head. It is estimated to affect more than 50,000 Australians. Researchers are studying cochlear and vestibular function in guinea pigs to identify the disease mechanism, develop diagnostic tools and effective treatments for the disease.
- Advancing the understanding of the genes involved in the development of psychiatric illness by studying the genes involved in brain and central nervous system development in zebrafish.
Not all research at the Brain and Mind Centre involves non-human animals. The following studies rely either human studies, in vitro methods, or computer modelling:
- Sleep and circadian rhythm studies to identify early markers and new interventions for mental illness.
- Understanding cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease and lifestyle and brain training interventions to slow or stop the onset of dementia.
- Making life-changing discoveries in autism through new pharmacological interventions, and studying the effectiveness of behavioural interventions such as parent training programs and cognitive behaviour therapy.
- Developing and testing a world-first clinical staging model for psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
- Conducting therapeutic trials of cutting edge therapies for multiple sclerosis (MS). Studies range from evaluating the safety, efficacy, and long-term impacts of new therapies on patients who have MS.