Unlocking the full potential of the HeroRATs with FALCON

By Ellie Cutright | Research Technician

Successful first trial run with new apparatus.

APOPO’s Innovation team has just completed the first trial run with our latest apparatus, the fully automated line cage (FALCON). This state-of-the-art apparatus is a new version of the line cages currently used in research, including for TB-detection.

The original Research & Development that led to APOPO’s innovative contributions to mine detection and tuberculosis diagnostics, were conducted at APOPO’s headquarters in Morogoro, Tanzania, which remains the home of our Innovation team today. In addition to providing operational support through development of alternative procedures, optimizing existing protocols, and publishing empirical results, our team of innovators explore potential new scent detection applications for our HeroRATS and conduct basic research to help expand our knowledge about the species we call a hero.

As with previous versions of the line cage, there are 10 holes aligned along the floor, under which odor samples can be placed. The rat smells each sample in succession and is rewarded with tasty food reward when it holds its nose in a hole containing a target odor sample for a set length of time (typically 3 seconds).

What’s new in this cage, is that the rat itself opens and closes these odor sampling holes! Photobeams aligned within the hole detect the rat’s nose and solenoids controlled by custom software smoothly and reliably slide open and close the doors covering the holes while small LEDs signal to the rat which hole should be visited next. When a session begins, the handler simply loads the samples and starts the session on the computer, and the rat does the rest!

Take a look at the following video to see the HeroRATS in action in the FALCON:

APOPO is most grateful for the generous support provided for this project by our partners and donors.