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Blog Series: How SwiftSENSE Fast Tracks The Drug Discovery Process Part 2 of 3

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Case Study: SwiftSENSE Expedites Drug Research Findings

Dr. Vincent Setola of West Virginia University is director of the Laboratory of Neuroscience and Genetics of Substance Abuse, a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) funded lab. They research the problems faced by clinicians and the people they treat who are suffering from substance abuse disorders. Dr. Setola and his team have been collaborating with SwiftSCIENCE to use our video monitoring solution to help with this research.

Dr. Setola was passionate as he talked about their research and how SwiftSCIENCE transformed it. “Our graduate student, Ben Menarchek, has already made a discovery that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for SwiftSENSE and the SwiftSCIENCE team. Ben, Zach, and Daryl have been working together to customize how the neuropsychopharmacology data are collected and analyzed, adding features like automated behavioral scoring and web tools to facilitate manual behavioral scoring.” said Vincent Setola, PhD, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry at the West Virginia University School of Medicine.

While there are FDA-approved medications to assist people seeking to achieve and maintain abstinence from opioids, nicotine, and ethanol, there is currently no medication available to help people quit methamphetamine (meth), cocaine, and psychostimulants (i.e., people with stimulants use disorders). Dr. Setola and his group are hoping to devise ways to screen existing and investigational compounds for activity as potential stimulant-use-disorder therapeutics.


“Our grad student, Ben Menarchek, has already made a discovery that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for SwiftSCIENCE,” Dr. Vincent Setola of West Virginia University


As part of their research, they are looking at behaviors—or, more importantly, patterns of behaviors—that emerge once mice that received daily doses of methamphetamine are taken off the drug. That is where SwiftSCIENCE stepped in. The lab utilized SwiftSENSE to observe the mice, record video, collect, label, and process the data. In normal mice, particular behaviors like grooming and rearing occur with a certain frequency. An animal “withdrawing” from a substance like meth may groom or rear more (or less) than control mice, or such behaviors may occur in distinct patterns. The following video clip shows an example of one of these behaviors.

This SwiftSENSE video shows a typical mouse Rearing behavior. It is a good example of how SwiftSENSE is able to identify and label specific behaviors needed by researchers.

For the most recent study, they administered meth for ten days, and the mice exhibited all kinds of behaviors. Then they monitored what happened while the mice were taken off methamphetamine. A behavior of interest (or a change in a behavior of interest) must emerge after the meth treatment period is finished to be associated with drug discontinuation. Such behaviors need to be distinct from behaviors that occur during exposure to methamphetamine (such as circling or general hyperactivity) and/or from behaviors that occur before drug administration.

In the following photos, you can see the difference in movement patterns between a mouse in the control group (top photo) and a mouse treated with meth (bottom photo). This repetitive circling behavior is a good example of a behavior that SwiftSCIENCE can help scientists to easily identify and track.

Activity Tracing. The top photo shows mouse in cage and green uneven lines representing random, normal movement pattern from a control animal. The bottom photo shows a mouse in a cage and green circular, respective motion pattern of a mouse treated with meth, showing the animal circling stereotypy.
The top photo is the movement pattern from a control animal, and the bottom photo is the movement pattern of a mouse treated with meth, showing the animal circling stereotypy.

These withdrawal-associated behaviors in mice are well known for opiate drugs; they include diarrhea, jumpiness, wet dog shakes (a full body shake or quivering of the mouse from the body up through the shoulders), and others. But until recently, almost nothing was known about mouse behaviors seen during discontinuation of sub-chronic methamphetamine treatment. Once methamphetamine-withdrawal-associated behaviors are well-characterized, researchers can test a candidate drug for the ability to normalize that behavior. In our final part of the series, we will expand on how SwiftSCIENCE is redefining the research process to allow researchers to test multiple drugs in various animals in tandem and greatly increasing the odds that clinically validated results will be identified and delivered.

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