October 31, 2012

"NYU loses years of scientific research and thousands of mice to Hurricane Sandy."

"Many precious reagents -- special enzymes, antibodies, DNA strands -- generated by scientists and stored at -80 degrees and -20 degrees were likely destroyed...."
Scientists are in a desperate frenzy to save what they can and transfer what can be moved to other areas of the hospital....

Even more alarming, thousands of mice that are used by scientists for cancer research and other experiments, drowned during a flood....

31 comments:

Alan said...

Reminds me of what happened in the Houston medical center when Tropical Storm Allison flooded their labs.

Patrick said...

No offense to them, but did they miss that a hurricane was coming? A really, really big one?

edutcher said...

No on-the-spot generators?

Manhattan doesn't usually flood because it's so well sheltered (this is why Gotham was a prime location for a port), but you'd think they'd seen enough power outages.

Dave said...

Patrick,

You can't just move genetically modified mice that easily. At least not legally.

David

clint said...

This smacks of massive incompetence.

They didn't have backup power sufficient for the power to be out for a day?

And the mice *drowned*?? Were these researchers the only people in New York (except the mayor) who didn't know there was going to be flooding? Were the mice in cages on the floor in the basement? And they couldn't be moved upstairs for a few days?

Animal research labs have large staffs of vets and vet techs whose sole job is to care for the animals. And they couldn't think of a way to avoid leaving the animals to drown in a flood?

There's a very real possibility that some very eminent researchers are going to have trouble getting approval to buy any more research animals. There are all kinds of oversight committees and hoops to jump through to get permission to work with animals. And "my last batch drowned in the flood" really doesn't look good on the application forms.

Paddy O said...

"The effect of Hurricane weather patterns on diverse research subjects in a controlled environment," Journal of Scientific Coping

Lem said...

Boy was I wrong about Cindy.

EDH said...

Deadmau5, pronounced "dead mouse".

Emil Blatz said...

Dave said...

Patrick,

You can't just move genetically modified mice that easily. At least not legally.


I've got a supply of genetically modified mice. Reasonable. Call me.

Patrick said...

You can't just move genetically modified mice that easily. At least not legally.

Yeah, that probably is so. Nevertheless, when the potential loss is great, it seems there would be some planning and steps taken to prevent the loss. I'd be surprised (though not terribly so) if there weren't a legal way to move this stuff in the event of an emergency. Even if not a written one, the Emergency Doctrine would allow for such a move.

Crimso said...

As for the mice, it wouldn't surprise me if they were being kept in a fairly secure part of the building(s). Moving them upstairs might have saved them, but it might also be forbidden (I don't know this, just going by the animal work I did years ago, and the underground facility where the rabbits were kept; like something out of The Andromeda Strain).

The frozen stuff is an entirely different issue. Kiss the stuff in liquid nitrogen goodbye. You'd need to move the -80 stuff on dry ice in coolers. That's a WHOLE lot of coolers (I'll bet there are hundreds of -80 freezers at NYU, and each would require more than one large cooler) and a WHOLE lot of dry ice. Think of the carbon footprint. That's more of a carbon crater. Not that I care about CO2...

MadisonMan said...

So apparently they weren't genetically modified to be more like fish?

MadisonMan said...

In all sort-of seriousness though, what a catastrophe for the scientists. I'd like to read the Quarterly Reports that are submitted for Oct-Dec. I'm trying to think how I'd do it -- brutal honesty I suppose.

This is why scientists should have penthouse labs, and administrators should be in flood-prone basements, not vice versa as so often occurs.

Saint Croix said...

It really sucks to lose all that work.

Hemingway once lost his only draft copy of a novel on a train. Actually, his wife lost it. (She claimed somebody stole her luggage).

It was not until later that Hemingway would comment on the gravity of the loss. He once said that he would have opted for surgery if he knew it could erase the memory. And according to Stuart Kelly, author of The Book of Lost Books, Hemingway was known to claim, usually after a drink or two, that the debacle led to his divorcing Hadley.

Skyler said...

I blame Bush.

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rhhardin said...

Don't take their word for the value of the work.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...


Gee, if only they knew this storm was coming.

wyo sis said...

This screams of poor planning and excess government control. Government controls everything, knows nothing, doesn't adequately plan, can't respond in an emergency, and even scientists who know what's going to happen can't get around regulations in time to save valuable and potentially dangerous experiments.
Wow, on top of the Benghazi failure I'm not feeling very safe anymore. If I lived in a city I'd be planning a way to get out to the country and away from the coast permanently about now.

Rustling Leaves said...

That's a shame. Perhaps it would not be a bad idea to have a backup storage facility for such things. Not for the animals, but for the -80 freezers. In cell based research, most anything of importance is stored in -80 freezers.

Darrell said...

Those Dewar flasks for the stuff cooled with liquid nitrogen look pretty sturdy and water tight, assuming the lids were latched.

I don't believe people that say "nothing could have been done" when you have a week's notice of a superstorm. Perhaps they don't use Drudge. Or YouTube for that 1938 storm. Their loss.

Crimso said...

If at all possible, anything you need stored at -80 should be split between at least 2 different freezers, preferably in different buildings. Now maybe add different countries to that.

Backup generators are the rule rather than the exception (consider how much biomedical research is done at or near major hospitals; even where I am now we have backup power), but if they get flooded as well, then you're screwed. And again, it is not a simple task to move things stored at -80. in fact, probably the easiest thing to do would be to move the entire freezer. Except that NYU probably has hundreds of them. Literally. Imagine trying to move them all at the same time.

Alex said...

Awww liberals don't really care about animals after all. Just save your own skins when the going gets though. Somehow I think conservatives always save their pets!

Ree-C said...

Similar situation occurred in Houston at M.D. Anderson cancer and research hospital during Tropical Storm Alison. 20 years worth of cancer research were wiped out. That was the major thing that broke my heart the most.

Zach said...

You can't just "move the mice upstairs." Facilities like that are built to house mice, and the number of mice they can house is a major constraint on how much research they can do.

If they have thousands of empty cages, that means the facility is operating on a fraction of its capacity. Much more likely that they have more cages than the facility was originally designed to house, since it's easier to stuff in new cages than to build a new building.

Darrell said...

20 years worth of cancer research were wiped out.

I'm sorry, I don't believe that. Every bit of research should have been documented and analyzed, slides made and illustrated, and photographed. Paper documents should have been backed up with digital or photographed archiving. Slides should have been kept in safe containment. And if you live in an area prone to flooding that means either elsewhere or in water tight containers. Research-in-progress is a different matter, but things can be done there with prior warning as well.

Zach said...

Another consideration is that lab mice are not incredibly long lived. At maximum, lab mice live for two years or so. A lot of experiments sacrifice the mice they use, so the number of "research years" lost is going to be correspondingly shorter.

Of course, losing a year or two of research is bad enough. That research is supposed to get you your next job if you're a young scientist, or your next grant if you're older. Everyone will understand why there's a gap in your resume, but you want to impress people with the quality of your work, not the quality of your excuses.

Saint Croix said...

Mice!.

Genetically-altered mice...in the sewers.

Now that's a movie!

squeak squeak squeak

Bryan C said...

"You can't just "move the mice upstairs." Facilities like that are built to house mice, and the number of mice they can house is a major constraint on how much research they can do."

Then why have such huge facilities, when your vital work is so vulnerable and yet so difficult to relocate? That makes no sense. It's like Google deciding to keep all their servers under a tarp on somebody's back porch.

Presumably scientists know how to use telephones and web browsers. Move the work to widely scattered semi-redundant facilities. Don't rebuild mistakes.

Joe said...

The last four companies I worked for had less than 200 employees each, yet all had a working power plan in place for their main servers.

Years before that I worked for a large networking company which forgot to test their backup generators. When the time came, they failed. That didn't happen again (and when those suckers kicked on, they were loud!)

Rustling Leaves said...

Darrell, yes it is possible for one -80 freezer to contain years of research. Most likely the freezers contain hundreds to thousands of tiny vials of carefully frozen cells. Without the freezer they would thaw in just minutes and would die. Cell cultures need to be handled very carefully and specifically to remain viable.