ABAI is pleased to announce Dr. Cynthia Fast is the 2022 Presidential Scholar. Dr. Fast is the Head of Training and Innovation at APOPO, a Belgian NGO that trains African giant pouched rats for scent detection of humanitarian targets. Her address, “Giant Rats to the Rescue! Applied Principles Shape Behaviors and Communities,” will discuss the training of these rats to detect buried landmines and tuberculosis. Attendees will learn about shaping strategies tailored to the experiential factors of the individual, methods for objectively quantifying behavioral changes and their feasibility, and the broader societal and environmental impacts of applied behavior analysis. The Presidential Scholar Address is scheduled for Saturday, May 28, 2022, from 6:00–6:50 PM Eastern Daylight Time. All convention registrants are welcome and encouraged to attend this talk.
Dr. Cynthia Fast is the Head of Training and Innovation at APOPO, a Belgian NGO that trains African giant pouched rats (Cricetomys ansorgei) for scent detection of humanitarian targets. Cindy has more than twenty years of experience training a variety of animals, including rats, mice, pigeons, and hermit crabs, in addition to family cats, dogs, birds, and horses. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from UCLA where her research focused on comparative cognition and behavioral neuroscience. While a member of the Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience department at Rutgers University, she investigated the neurobiology of rodent olfaction including how learning influences olfactory sensation and perception. Her research has received numerous professional awards, including the prestigious James McKeen Cattel Gold Medal from the New York Academy of Sciences. She is a member of the Pavlovian Society, Society for Neuroscience, Women in Learning, Association for Chemoreception Sciences, and Comparative Cognition Society and has served as a mentor in both Women in Learning and the STEM Alliance Next Scholars program.
Giant Rats to the Rescue! Applied Principles Shape Behaviors and Communities
Abstract: Adopting fundamental principles of behavior, the Belgian NGO, APOPO, developed a hero out of the most unlikely of creatures, the African giant pouched rat (Cricetomys ansorgei). The rats are native to Tanzania where they have historically been viewed as pests. APOPO established operational headquarters in Tanzania in 2000 to train the rats to use their keen sense of smell for locating buried landmines in former conflict zones. Landmines not only pose serious safety and psychological risks, they also hamper economic development by blocking access to agriculture and displacing communities. To date, APOPO’s rats have safely located more than 140,000 landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs) to help return more than 65 million m2 of safe land to local communities in Africa and Southeast Asia. Research that began in 2003 has successfully trained the rats to also detect tuberculosis (TB). Until recently, TB stood as the world’s deadliest infectious disease. Working in partnership with local health authorities in Sub-Saharan Africa, TB-detection rats screen upwards of 100 sputum samples from suspected TB patients in under 20 minutes. To date, the rats have efficiently identified more than 20,000 patients that had otherwise been misdiagnosed, effectively increasing case detection by 40%. Ongoing research continues to inform training techniques by revealing the universal nature of behavioral principles. For example, recent results suggest interventions developed to prevent extinction in scent detection dogs and laboratory rats may reduce the need for routine maintenance training of deployed landmine-detection rats. Applying standardized training procedures in additional lines of research provides insights for optimizing how the rats are deployed and where. Recent results show they can be trained to detect other pathogens posing health and economic risks, contribute to various environmental initiatives by detecting contaminated soil and illegally trafficked wildlife, and even support search and rescue efforts following natural disasters. Through the process of training scent detection rats, APOPO’s collective work continues to shape behaviors, perspectives, and livelihoods.