There is an acknowledged lack of reproducibility in research (Voelkl, Nature Reviews Neuro., 2020), across different batches of animals, different laboratories (Crabbe et al., Science, 1999), and different experimenters (Chesler et al., Nature Neuroscience, 2002) or their sex (Sorge et al., Nat. Methods, 2014). In particular, this seems most important in studies that are influenced by stress. Jane Hurst (UK) found that how animals are handled can impact on the stress response, and the subsequent anxiety triggered in laboratory mice. Hurst is a Professor mainly working with wild mice, and their observation required the development of techniques, such as tunnel handling, which – when incorporated into the lab – had a major impact on the stress level of the animals and their anxiety (Hurst et al., Nat. Methods, 2010).
When comparing traditional tail handling with tunnel handling (or cup handling), she observes that, with tunnel handling, the number of interactions with the handler increase, there is less production of urine and feces, less anxiety measures by means of elevated plus maze and open field tests, better responses to subsequent scruff restraint and tail handling, better responses to habituation/deshabituation tests, better responses to injection. This applies to different strains of mice, different handlers (experienced vs beginners), light or dark light cycles. Cup handling can become more effective than tail handling but requires more practice. She has also seen benefits for rat handling, although reports evidencing this are, to our knowledge, lacking. She published follow-up research on the effects of tunnel handling on anxiety (Gouevia, PlosOne, 2013; Sci. Reports, 2017; Sci. Reports, 2019) and her work on tunnel handling has been cited more than 200 times. It has been replicated by Ghosal et al. (Physiol Behav, 2015) and Clarkson et al. (Sci. Reports, 2018).
Hurst claims that the implementation of tunnel handling would not only improve laboratory animals’ welfare, but also reduce stress for handlers and potential bites, improve the quality of research and its reproducibility.
In Switzerland, a number of HEIs have started to test and incorporate tunnel handling in their facilities with overall good success, but acknowledging there can be challenges in husbandry and cleaning (on the animal facility part), and in research (from the academic perspective, who are less keen in changing their methodologies). Given the growing awareness about the benefits of tunnel handling, when compared to traditional tail handling, there is a need to spread awareness about this non-aversive mouse handling technique in Switzerland.
The goal of this project is to generate several videos: one with a general coverage and a second with more practical advices on how to perform tunnel handling. These videos should present the benefits of tunnel and cup handling versus standard tail handling, and provide arguments for animal facility staff and researchers in adopting this method and how to do so (challenges for implementation, and solutions to it). The video should include interviews of both animal facility staff and researchers, in one/two Swiss German or one/two French-speaking HEIs, whom have tested tunnel/cup handling in their facilities or in their research. The video should also discuss the challenges in daily routine for both animal facility staff and researchers.
Two videos were generated and available here:
as well as on our Youtube channel -
Video #1: An introduction to tunnel handling
Video #2: Practical advice on tunnel handling
Christopher R. Cederroth, Paulin Jirkof, Philippe Bugnon.