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CPSR core facility delivers sophisticated imaging, behavioural testing and surgical expertise

Preclinical research leads to improved care for people recovering from stroke

A state-of-the art preclinical research facility at the University of Ottawa is providing powerful new insight into the processes of physical and cognitive recovery in rodent models of stroke.

“The work done here really parallels clinical work,” says Dr. Dale Corbett, CPSR Scientific Director and CEO. “There is huge potential for translation of the research from animals to humans, provided the preclinical work is done with the clinical picture in mind.”

The CPSR’s Animal Stroke Model Core Facility platform, funded in part by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, uOttawa and The Ottawa Hospital, includes three integrated components: high-resolution imaging, behavioural testing, and surgical facilities and expertise.

What’s clear after a tour of the facility is how basic research discoveries lead to new knowledge to benefit patients and how this core facility is helping train scientists to improve the quality of research across Canada.

“Some people recover well after stroke and others do not,” Dr. Corbett explains. “Is it because of a slight difference in stroke location? Or the size of the injury? Does diet lead to changes in blood flow? Using animal models, we can analyse many of these variables.”

Among the tools available to researchers is a 7 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. High-resolution images help measure and track the size and location of strokes in rat and mouse brains.

Working alongside imaging specialists here are behavioural neuroscientists like Dr. Diane Lagace and Dr. Corbett. Behavioural testing on rats and mice can measure changes in animals’ learning and memory and physical ability before and after strokes. It can also determine the impact of interventions like exercise, brain stimulation, stem cells and drug therapies on recovery.

In every case, preclinical findings are used to inform the clinicians who deliver patient care.

In one behavioural testing room, a camera mounted on the ceiling sends signals to a computer that uses sophisticated software to analyse movement patterns and distance-travelled by stroke-affected rodents. Mazes can be used to test how animals learn and remember information after stroke.

In another room, rats walk along a tapered balance beam to study their foot falls or complete a ladder test to measure balance and stability. A mini plexiglass staircase loaded with food treats is used to evaluate reach and use of forelimbs.

“It’s important to have sensitive outcome measures appropriate to the animal or stroke model you’re using,” says Dr. Corbett. “We have people who are trained to teach others to do the animal testing properly and to supervise them until they are good at it.”

The underpinning of the imaging and behavioural testing components is a sophisticated surgical area where development of precision animal models allows comparison of rats and mice with strokes in the same brain regions, ensuring the quality and reproducibility of experiments.

Researchers from across Canada come to the core facility to be trained in highly technical and complicated surgical techniques.

Other researchers ship their rodents to Ottawa for surgery and behavioural testing. Besides state-of-the-art equipment and expertise, this facility has high levels of staffing in animal care.

“There are many benefits of having this core facility and it’s the kind of thing you couldn’t duplicate in every lab or institution,” Dr. Corbett says.

For information about the CPSR Animal Stroke Model Core Facility, contact


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