Prof. Dr. B.M. Spruijt is holds a Chair in Ethology and Welfare, which involves research into the sensitivity of reward systems and positive emotions. This research is aimed at the assessment of welfare from the perspective of the animal. An important premis is that for the early detection or prevention of welfare problems one should measure the animal's appraisal of its environment rather than wait until post hoc pathological symptoms of chronic stress have been developed.
The need for welfare measurement in, for instance, livestock husbandry practices at a large scale, and the need for objective measurements inspired an already long existing interest in automation and valorisation of ethological procedures. Furthermore, also in behavioural neuroscience, behavioural pharmacology and toxicology an urgent need for less laborious and more reliable and reproducible methodology exists, being more animal friendly at the same time. For rodents, a system (PhenoTyper®) has been developed that prevents the influence of confounding factors such as the presence of human observers, transport before the test, etc. (Spruijt and de Visser, 2006; de Visser et al., 2007, 2006). It also allows the distinct assessment of reactions to novelty, anxiety and cognitive performance as the system is equipped with various programmable (aversive and rewarding) stimuli to activate various behavioural systems in the home cage.
The collaboration with Noldus Information Technology (Wageningen, the Netherlands) resulted in the founding of a company Delta Phenomics, offering contract research services for pharma, food companies and other research institutes.