“The Startle reflex apparatus (with digitized electronic output) for Mice Models of Neuropsychiatric Disorders” is one of the medicine oriented open hardware projects of Cohort 2 (Science Edition!)

It is led by Royhaan Folarin, a Neurobiology Phd, lecturer of anatomical sciences and head of the Neurophytotherapy Research Lab, at the Department of Anatomy of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria. He investigates the developmental mechanics of psychotic and neurodegenerative disorders using mice and Drosophila models. He is also the COO of Science Communication Hub Nigeria, and won a fellowship of the African Science Literacy Network (FASLN) in 2019. At the lab, Royhaan works to identify therapeutic alternatives to the detrimental antipsychotics and neuro-palliatives currently obtainable.

Neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia are usually studied through mice models. Patients of neuropsychiatric disorders like schizophrenia have been characterised by impairment in a phenomenon called Prepulse inhibition (PPI), startle reduction or reflex modification. This means that startle response in such individuals contravenes what is obtainable in normal individuals where a preceding weak stimulus (Prepulse) is expected to suppress the startle response to a subsequent stronger startle stimulus (pulse).

Such behavioural impairment is known to indicate a dysfunction in the sensorimotor gating of the individual, and therefore, confirmation of such becomes critical in the validation of animal models developed to study such neuropsychiatric disorders. And at this point, specific science hardware is required. Mice models are usually subjected to the PPI test (also known as Startle Reflex Test), using the Startle Reflex Apparatus. In the market, this tool cost more than USD$24.000.

The apparatus works by the mechanism of delivering a weak acoustic impulse to the animal (which had been placed in the startle chamber) at desired milliseconds before the delivery of the actual stronger acoustic impulse. The reactivity score of the animal is thus generated by the apparatus in terms of the timing and intensity of the body movement during the startle. Building an open-source apparatus on this mechanism has therefore become a desired intervention for experimental credibility and progress in the modelling and study of neuropsychiatric disorders.

As Royhaan is also a 3D-printing expert and an advocate of Free and Open Science Hardware, he is developing an open version of the startle reflex apparatus, to make the process of measuring sensorimotor gating and getting digitized electronic output more accessible. He builds upon a long-conceived idea -a dream- that finally found its right moment through the Open Hardware Makers Science Edition.

A peer learning experience

“The OHM programme has been the most helpful training cohort I have participated in following my first contact with open hardware at an advanced TReND in Africa workshop in 2019, and has helped me to embark upon this long-desired project faster”, says Royhaan. And he highlights: “The peer learning experience kept me on my toes through assignments, and the positive energy of the mentors made the project execution more fun through periodic meetings and updates”.

His mentor is Artemis Koumoundourou, who helped him with logistic recommendations, identification of realistic milestones and ways to keep steady on the project. Also, Royhaan remarks that he has been able to leverage on the experience garnered during his prior collaboration with André Maia Chagas (part of OHM team) in the 3D-Printing of face shields and nose masks for a local Nigerian community, in order to help flatten the COVID-19 curve while at its peak.

Royhaan holds great expectations for the impact of the open startle reflex apparatus. “I imagine that the low-cost startle apparatus would benefit the vast community of researchers from low-resource settings who model neuropsychiatric disorders using rodents in order to further standardise their modelling protocols, as they pursue more understanding and thus cure for the disorder”, he emphasises.

Header photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash