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'Years of work' lost as Hurricane Sandy drowns rat colonies at NYU disease research labs

'Years of work' lost as Hurricane Sandy drowns rat colonies at NYU disease research labs


Storm claims 10,000 lab animals used to study cancer and other ailments

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Lab Rat
Lab Rat

In addition to displacing millions of New Yorkers, the catastrophic flooding and widespread power outages brought about by Hurricane Sandy have threatened a great deal of scientific research throughout the city. At New York University's Smilow Research Center in Kips Bay, the storm has claimed the lives of around 10,000 lab animals, dramatically setting back long-term studies on diseases such as cancer.

"These animals were the culmination of 10 years of work"

"These animals were the culmination of 10 years of work, and it will take time to replace them," Gordon J. Fishell, associate director of the NYU Neuroscience Institute, told the New York Times. The rodents in labs like Dr. Fishell's are specially bred and mutated, sometimes over years and years, to produce the effects of various diseases and disorders. The research involves studying abnormalities in brain activity that occur as a result of these mutations, gathering data that could be used to combat ailments such as cancer, autism, epilepsy, and heart disease.

The research center, which sits in a basement located near 1st Avenue and 30th Street in Manhattan, is equipped to withstand storm surges up to 20 percent higher than what Hurricane Sandy could muster. But the facility was nevertheless hit by "extensive flooding" when the superstorm slammed into the New York Metropolitan area on Monday. The severe weather also caused power outages, which left freezers containing other sensitive specimens and materials to thaw. In one of the more harrowing moments of the storm, the failure of a backup generator also forced an emergency evacuation of 300 patients from NYU's Langone Medical Center.

"It's so horrible, you don't even want to think about it," Michelle Krogsgaard, a cancer biologist at the center, told ABC News. "All the work we did, all the time and money, we're going to have to start all over."

Fortunately, several other labs have been eager to get NYU back on their feet, pledging to donate animals to their peers at the shuttered New York research center. That's the silver lining, Fishell says. “Individuals in the research community, who in most businesses would be considered my competitors, have been eager to help.”