A tool that seems inspired by Hollywood animation imagery allows us to accurately model and measure subtle movements in rodent models of CNS disease.

According to one analysis published last year by the Tufts University’s Center for Drug Development, drugs that target the central nervous system take significantly longer to develop and get approved than other medicines.

The reasons for this time lag are complex. One major factor is that diseases of the brain are often too hard to diagnose in the earliest stages, according to Dr. Timo Bragge, a Principal Data Scientist at Charles River’s site in Kuopio, Finland, which focuses on CNS disease.

“I would say that the most difficult thing about CNS disease is that the symptoms vary a lot. We can have motor deficits, or the impairment can be difficult to determine. Or, in some patients, the first symptom might be the loss of memory. So, there’s so great variability,” says Bragge. “Another challenge is that, quite often, the actual pathology, what’s happening in the brain, is happening before any of those physical symptoms.”

Huntington’s disease, a progressive brain disorder that causes uncontrolled movements, emotional problems, and loss of thinking ability, is one such disease. Kinematic analysis, a tool that seems inspired by Hollywood animation imagery, is trying to narrow this gap by allowing us to accurately model and measure subtle movement and coordination in rodents. 

For instance, to create the Hobbit-like character Gollum, the actor playing the character wore a tight grey unitard and small sensors over his body and face. The sensors captured his body movements and facial expressions, which allowed the computer to create a replicated 3D model of the movements of the actor.

Kinematic models used in CNS research are sort of like this, except they capture subtle changes in movement not always visible to the naked eye. If you look at a Huntington’s mouse model walking up a ladder you might not pick up the subtle changes in coordination that creep in during the early stages of disease. Identifying these subtle movements is particularly important in Huntington’s disease, says Taneli Heikkinen, Study Director at the Charles River Finland site who works on Huntington’s. His laboratory has used the tool extensively in mice and rats, including the R6/2 transgenic mouse model of Huntington’s. 

To learn more about how this tool works in CNS disease, tune into our latest Sounds of Science podcast, where Timo and Taneli talk about what they are learning about Huntington’s using these models. The podcast was moderated by Chris Dowdy, Client and Scientific Portfolio Manager, who oversees a team of project managers and provides scientific support for the Genetically Engineered Model Services Group.

And if you would like to learn more about kinematic analysis check out this video story.