Pain Relief

In recent years, in both medical and veterinary professions, pain relief for traumatic, surgical and disease-related pain (e.g. cancer pain) has become much more effective and no-one, be they man or beast, should expect to suffer severe or prolonged pain during the course of their clinical treatment.

Topcat Metrology has played a part in this advance. The company has its roots twenty years ago when Dr Polly Taylor, a veterinary anaesthetist and Michael Dixon, a scientist specialising in measurement techniques, joined forces to develop a method for assessing the analgesic effect of opioids (morphine-like drugs) in cats.

The project was successful, contributing to the licensing of buprenorphine as an analgesic for cats in the UK and leading to several other requests for similar equipment. Topcat Metrology Ltd was formed in 2008 and has since developed a wide range of threshold evaluation equipment, allowing researchers to quantify their assessments of analgesia. Most of the thermal threshold systems (and the LA mechanical threshold system) are now wireless, allowing the animals to be free-ranging and thus behaving naturally.

For mechanical testing on small animals, and for measurements in the clinic, the Prod range of algometers have proved extremely popular, with ProdPro (the research instrument) allowing both hand-held algometry and measurements with a limb-mounted actuator. And for work with rodents we have patented a novel electronic von Frey system for mice (MouseMet) (with a larger version for rats) and a thermal threshold testing system with a 2mm probe for use in the same cage.

Looking behind the measurement

Good measurement is difficult. It is very easy, with technology all around us, to measure something, often with a piece of equipment borrowed from another lab, or another discipline, and to produce numbers that look plausible…even encouraging.

But not necessarily meaningful. Our aim is always to look behind the required measurement, to figure out what is really going on, and then to design equipment that is appropriate. Put another way, we aim to generate data with significant figures that really are significant.

Part of this is education. The physical principles bound up in our measurements are basic, but easily forgotten, or mis-interpreted if you don’t use them regularly. So Topcat provides full training, both on the use of our equipment and on the underlying science.

In  Feb 2010 we gave a series of lectures across Australia, spanning Sydney, Adelaide and Perth on three successive nights and in September of the same year hosted the training day at the AVA meeting in Santorini. Together with Dr Craig Johnson of Massey University, New Zealand, and Dr Louisa Slingsby of Bristol Veterinary School we presented a program entitled “The Pitfalls of Measurement”.

We present regularly at conferences worldwide. In 2013 we both formed part of the international panel of invited speakers at the  annual conference of the Australian and New Zealand Laboratory Animal Association in Perth. In 2016 Polly presented “Refinements in mechanical and thermal nociceptive threshold testing in mice” at the Society for Experimental Biology and Laboratory Animal Science Association.