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NYU medical research severely impacted by monster storm Sandy

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
NYU Medical Cente, monster storm Sanday, medical research, setback

While a large portion of the Eastern United States is still reeling from the impact of monster storm Sandy, New York University Hospital has reported a severe setback to medical research as a result of the tragic event. The university reports that thousands of laboratory mice were destroyed—a setback that could take years to recover from.

On October 31, a statement released by NYU noted that the Smilos building, one of the university’s three animal research facilities, “was adversely impacted by the severity of the flood surge and the speed with which it came on. Animal resource staff was on site continuously to mitigate the damage from the storm, but due to the speed and force of the surge, animal rescue attempts were unsuccessful.”

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A power failure in the building shut down freezers and refrigerators, which is likely to result in the destruction of other biological research materials. In the statement, NYU officials noted, “We are deeply saddened by the loss of these animals’ lives and the impact this has on the many years of important work conducted by our researchers.” One might ask why the loss of laboratory mice would be so devastating. The reason is that laboratory mice are bred for certain characteristics, such as susceptibility to certain cancers. Thus, unique strains have been lost forever due to the storm. Mice can breed several times a year, and they reach maturity quickly; however, this characteristic does not mean that it is simple matter to keep a colony of laboratory mice going. Researchers use genetic engineering techniques to create and breed what are called transgenic mice: strains where certain genes are “knocked out” or otherwise altered so researchers can pinpoint genetic variables in development and disease.

Creating these transgenic lines can take years. The production begins with laboratory work to target a specific gene. Next, researches have to insert the altered genes into mice blastocysts (early embryos) and then implant those embryos into mother mice that can give birth to the new strain. Then the researchers have to make sure the genetic alterations made it through development and into the sperm and egg of the baby mice so that they can breed and pass on these changes. The process can take one to three years.

Once the power is on and the damage fully assessed, NYU researchers will have to reconstitute their animal models. If the NYU scientists have shared their mouse strains with other researchers, they will be able to call their colleagues and ask for replacements. Unfortunately, however, some strains may be unique to NYU, either because their creators chose not to share them or because they are too new. Those researchers will have no choice but to abandon that project and start afresh.

Reference: NYU Langone Medical Center