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Honey, I Shrunk The Rats’ PET Scanner

March 16, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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A new miniature, portable PET scanner will allow scientists to study the linkages of brain function and behavior in fully awake, moving animals—specifically, rats.

PET can show molecular processes in the brain, but animals previously had to be anesthetized or immobilized in order to be scanned. Said David Schlyer, PhD:

Our approach was to eliminate the need for restraint by developing a PET scanner that would move with the animal, thus opening up the possibility of directly correlating the imaging data with behavioral data acquired at the same time.

Why does this remind me of a famous Far Side cartoon?

Anyway, Dr. Schlyer was part of the Brookhaven National Laboratory team that developed the device. He and colleagues at Brookhaven and Stony Brook University call it Rat Conscious Animal PET, or RatCAP. (Brookhaven, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, and Stony Brook are affiliated institutions on Long Island, New York.)

RatCAP is doughnut-shaped and worn like a collar around a rat’s head. It weighs 250 grams and is counterbalanced by springs and motion stabilizers to give the rat decent freedom of movement—though rats lugging this thing on their heads aren’t going to be winning any medals in the rat Olympics. You can see a photo here at DOTmed News.

A Brookhaven news release said measurements indicated “only moderate and temporary increases” in the rats’ stress hormones. Said Craig Woody, PhD, another leader of the Brookhaven development team:

Rats wearing the device appear to adapt well and move freely about their environment.

The researchers have just begun to test RatCAP. So far, it appears that the more active the rat is, the lower its dopamine levels are. That surprised the scientists, who were expecting the opposite to be true.

The first RatCAP study was published online this week in Nature Methods.

Expect human research subjects to be wearing these things within a few years. And it’s not hard to imagine clinical applications just a bit further down the road.

Related seminar: Neuro & Musculoskeletal Imaging

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