Centre for Behaviour and Evolution

Simple Profiles

Elena Armstrong

  • Postgraduate Student
  • Email: e.a.armstrong@newcastle.ac.uk
  • Address: Henry Wellcome Building, The Medical School, Framlington Place, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH


As part of a research training studentship funded by UFAW, I am engaging in the development of integrative tools to screen lifetime welfare state in poultry.

I am measuring cellular and molecular indicators of cumulative chronic stress in the brain. Such markers reflect a physiological response to sustained 'negative' conditions of consequence to the animal. As such, they may encapsulate the suffering of prolonged pain and/or distress, including long-term frustration arising from behavioural restriction.

There is a unique value of this approach, which underpins its great relevance to the advancement of farm animal welfare. It lies in its potential to integrate animals’ experience in commercial farming over the last weeks or months of life for assessment after slaughter. This is in contrast to existing methods that assess acute stress and are thus unduly influenced by current state.

Without valid, sensitive and relatively long-term welfare measures, the ability of industry to guarantee that farm animals have at least a "life worth living” overall is difficult to assess. This makes the development of novel welfare assessment methods, which fulfil these criteria, a matter of crucial importance. Cellular processes such as adult neurogenesis, which is downregulated by chronic stress and increased by environmental enrichment, offer exciting candidate markers. This is along with quantifying the observed upregulation of genes relating to vascular inflammation following chronic unpredictable stress.

Application of successful findings would have numerous welfare benefits for farm animals. It would allow for the informed comparison of different housing conditions (eg, free range versus battery farming systems) and husbandry techniques in agriculture.


Through studying a BSc in Psychology, with a strong biological and neuroscientific focus, I came to develop a passionate interest in animal welfare science. In particular, I was inspired by modules relating to comparative neuroanatomy and cognition. This emphasised to me the theoretical and moral value of gauging and ensuring the wellbeing of non-human animals.

Coupled with my knowledge of mood disorders and their physiological consequences, which link strongly to stress axis dysregulation through over-activation, this background made animal welfare science the ideal field for progression of my academic research career. The subject not only interests me on a mechanistic basis, but through its significant societal and ethical implications. I eventually hope to be able to offer a new perspective to the area through my neuroscientific focus. As such, the primary motivation underlying my MRes/PhD research project was to apply my interest in basic neuroscience to a specific practical problem in animal welfare.