Scientists from New York University have been left reeling in the wake of hurricane Sandy after thousands of lab mice were killed as a result of rising flood waters, potentially setting back this medical research into heart disease and cancers by as much as a decade and leading scientists to have to contemplate starting all over again — something neither they, nor animal rights campaigners, relish.
The loss of animal life was first reported by New York Daily News on Tuesday. In a short account, told to them by an unnamed researcher at the university, the Daily News reported that emergency power was lost at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, leading to the loss of many specialist enzymes and antibodies that had been cultivated by the scientists and which needed to be stored at below-zero temperatures.
Even more alarming, thousands of mice that are used by scientists for cancer research and other experiments, drowned during a flood. It is unclear how the mice died, but the source told the News that many of these mice are genetically modified for certain research and took years to produce. It will likely set back several scientists’ work by years, the source said.
A researcher is then quoted as saying that while this “did not equate to a loss of life” it was still deeply upsetting because of the loss of research. The mice that perished, you could argue, might disagree.
The NYU Langone Medical Center was able to confirm on Wednesday that the Smilow Research Center, one among three animal research facilities at NYU, was “adversely impacted” by the flooding that resulted from Sandy’s arrival.
“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,” the medical center said in a statement. “This facility is a barrier facility that is ‘super clean,’ which restricts the movement of animals in and out of the facility.”
It should be noted the report goes on to say that, despite what the NY Daily’s rather oblivious unnamed source said, NYU was “deeply saddened by the loss of these animals’ lives” as well as “the impact this has on the many years of important work conducted by our researchers.”
The failure of the backup generators also meant the facility was forced to evacuate more than 200 patients to other hospitals.
Another complicating factor is, of course, money. Research grants are hard to come by, and so if these mice have been tragically lost, scientists will have to begin if not from very start of their research then at a much earlier stage, and will require funds to do so, something that is not guaranteed.
This also throws up serious implications for anyone who considers the lives of the animal test subjects to be of importance because it means that not only has this generation and previous generations of transgenic mice had their lives claimed in the devotion to find a cure for our diseases, but now countless more stand to endure medical tests in order for researchers to regain the ground that has been lost.
This, from an animal rights standpoint, is a deeply serious thing, and one more tragedy left in Sandy’s devastating wake. Perhaps this horrible event can be seen as an opportunity to reevaluate the use of mice in research.