idTracker: a new solution to high-throughput drug screening

In the field of pre-clinical drug screening, there are several barriers that produce elevated costs (in terms of money and time) to small biotech companies. For example, the ability to manage a large number of animals, with different doses and co-adjuvant therapies. This provokes the use of adequate infrastructure and more technicians. In addition, sometimes these conditions turn the pre-clinical screening into a mere toxicity assay with a lack of analysis of differences in complex behaviors provoked by the drugs.

To address these problems, a spanish group at Instituto Cajal leaded by Dr. Gonzalo G. De Polavieja has developed a incredible novel technique to identify and track multiple animals in a group (click here to see the paper published in Nature Methods). The algorithm is able to obtain a fingerprint profile that is specific for each individual, and this profile is used to reconstruct the trajectory of the animals along a video. This allows to maintain mixed animals inside the same testing arena, because you can identify and recover them at the end of the experiment. Moreover, not only the total needed size of the equipment is reduced, but also you might analyze the social behavior of the animals, and find if a specific drug affects it.

                                    (detail of the identification algorithm, picture taken from CSIC)

There are at least two more advantages of idTracker. First, you do not need expensive equipment for these analyses (a commercial videocamera and good light conditions). Second, it seems to work in a cross-species work (they tested the technique with laboratory animals like zebrafish, Drosophila or mice). This advance might be applied in drug screening biotechs involved in neurological diseases. Drugs with the ability to correct or improve the social interactions of model animals could become lead compounds for several brain conditions.

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