Innovation Through Perseverance

Datesand and the Babraham Institute working together to enrich lives of laboratory rodents

In 2017, Luke Mercer from the Biological Support Unit (BSU) at the Babraham Institute, Cambridge, submitted his initial design for a disposable hanging enrichment device into the Janet Wood Innovation Award.

Despite not making it to the final, Datesand were very interested in Luke’s innovative idea of combining hanging enrichment and nesting. Datesand worked with Luke for some time, analysing materials and discussing ways of hanging said materials from the cage bars. Though this was a very efficient concept, it was tough to find a singular material to successfully create the design. This meant having to assemble the device using multiple materials. The cost of these materials and assembly meant that the product was not financially viable and initially it could not be taken any further.

When developing products that have been designed by JWIA entrants, Datesand always keeps their interests at heart and will not produce an end product that they do not approve of. One thing that was very important for Luke was offering a compostable product.

At Babraham, Luke has dedicated a lot of time to using compostable-only materials where possible to create a more natural environment. By doing this, he also reduces his facilities environmental impact by efficiently disposing of leftover materials.

Though original plans were not successful, Datesand were determined to make something of this design and did not give up on turning Luke’s concept into reality. After 3 years of research and working closely with Luke and the team at Babraham, Datesand have worked with a key manufacturing partner to develop a 100% food-grade pure cellulose board with no additives which is oxygen bleached to avoid the use of any unnecessary chemicals.

With this material, all of Luke’s original goals have now been achieved. The new ‘CellPad’ can be cut to hang exactly as he had originally designed, enabling more in-cage floor space and keeping it away from urine, faeces and automatic watering systems.

This enrichment and nesting material is portion controlled for simple use – it can be hung straight from the cage bars where rodents can create an effective nest while actively climbing on and around the product, stretching and getting active enrichment from the device, encouraging natural behaviours. A certified piece of nesting material, it can also be autoclaved and irradiated if necessary.  

Key benefits of the CellPad are:

  •           The compatibility with modern animal facilities, automation and almost any cage design
  •           Easily mass-produced without any significant start-up costs (no complicated machines, tooling or expensive moulds)
  •           Environmentally friendly – Entirely compostable, low manufacturing costs, lightweight keeping transportation costs to a minimum
  •           Animals show natural behaviours while nest building
  •           Non-mobile, greatly reducing the risk of the enrichment being involved in activating automatic watering drinking nozzles where fitted
  •           Suspended from the cage lid, providing novelty value for the animal whilst keeping the enrichment from contact with mashed diet/faeces/urine until the animal chooses to use it
  •           Ideal for sentinel cages

In recognition of the innovation of this device, as well as the potential to improve animal welfare, Luke was also awarded the 2018 Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation Prize by the Babraham Institute.



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