Science Market Update

Research Mice, Science Equipment Lost and Saved in Northeast Storm

Posted by Jaimee Saliba on Fri, Nov 02, 2012

Though the general consensus seems to be that the Northeast weathered deadly storm Sandy relatively well thanks to warnings and emergency plans put into action, there were unexpected casualties beyond the loss of over 80 human lives. Massive flooding in the lower New York Metro Area was not on the radar to the extent that it actually transpired, and basements that were thought to be flood-safe turned out not to be. That was the case at New York University's Smilow Research Center, where animal labs underground were inundated and approximately 10,000 research mice and rats drowned and lab equipment was ruined. On the upper floors, precious biological samples and reagents were lost as freezers and refrigerators shut down. Other research institutions in the area fared better.

Mount Sinai New York, located uptown in Harlem, never lost power, escaped the heavy flooding in lower Manhattan, and was even able to take in many of NYU's human patients when NYU's Langone Medical Center (on the same block as the Smilow) lost power and had its backup generators fail. The cause there too was flooding in the basement. The emergency evacuation of Langone's critical care patients may explain why rescue efforts for the research animals at Smilow was hampered. A faulty door lock that could not be manually opened when the power went out was also to blame. New York's Bellevue Hospital nearby also lost power and had to be evacuated. Further up on the East Side, Rockefeller University and its neighboring medical facilities escaped the power outages and have not reported serious damage (though one Weill Cornell Medical Center senior investigator is homeless with his family after a tree fell on his house). Likewise, northern Manhattan's Columbia University Medical Center reports business as usual.

On Long Island, where the storm was especially severe, Stony Brook University reports no severe damages to research laboratories, and the medical center is fully-operational. Nearby at Cold Spring Harbor National Lab, an aggressive emergency plan successfully implemented meant that research facilities and animals were protected despite flooding. Cold Springs still lacks telephone service and hot water, but a sign on the door proudly reports:

"Sandy versus Science … Science Wins"

To return to the laboratory research mice situation... NYU will be set back for years as they rebuild and reestablish specialized lines of genetically engineered rodents lost this week. On the bright side, both the University of Pennsylvania and Cold Springs Harbor Lab have offered to donate lines of their mice to NYU so that researchers there can start over. By contrast, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, a heroic rescue effort to evacuate research animals from basement labs and secure perishables from fridges and freezers (dry ice was made available) had a different outcome, as mice and samples were saved. In fact, the hand-to-hand transfer of mice cages to higher ground was carried out by anyone and everyone available, including the dean and senior staff at the medical school.

Increased flooding in the past decade has led some universities like the University of Texas to reconsider the whole idea of putting animal labs in basements. A catastrophic flooding incident in Houston in 2001 caused by storm Allison destroyed the medical school basements at UT, leading to the loss of some 4,000 rats and mice, along with 78 monkeys, 35 dogs, and 300 rabbits. Medical school president Dr. James Willerson vowed after that: "We will never place animals or critical equipment in the basement again," and rebuilt aboveground. 

Articles referenced:

New York TimesHurricane Sandy’s Lesser-Known Victims: Lab Rats

ScienceInsiderTails of Two Cities: After Sandy, Research Rodents Meet Different Fates in New York and Baltimore

ScienceInsiderSandy vs. Science: On Long Island, Prominent Research Lab Weathers the Storm

SlateSandy’s Toll on Medical Research

Baltimore BrewSandy floods basement of Hopkins cancer research building

The ScientistNYC Science Stunned by Sandy



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Tags: Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Rockefeller University, Northeast, animal research, research mice, University of Texas, New York, 2012, Stony Brook University, Austin, Philadelphia, MSSM, BioResearch Product Faire Event, NY, Front Line event, science research, research laboratories, New York City, Research equipment, Stoneybrook

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