From: Jim Fitzgerald, Associated Press
Published October 23, 2006 12:00 AM

Research Mice Leaving NYC for Suburbs

NEW YORK -- Things are getting so expensive in Manhattan that even the rodents are moving to the suburbs.


A group of 35 hospitals and medical schools in the New York metropolitan area have decided to relocate their research mouse-breeding and mouse-holding operations in a new building in Yonkers. The building could eventually hold up to 80,000 cages _ and 400,000 mice.


The Yonkers facility would be the first multi-institutional "mouse house" in the country, said Maria Mitchell, president of the Academic Medicine Development Co., which is coordinating the house.


"Research mice don't have to live in prime Manhattan real estate," Mitchell said. "Hospitals and medical schools can do better things with that space."


Breeding research mice has become big business since scientists discovered that mice genes are very similar to those of humans. As many as 25 million are used each year in the United States.


Mice can be given cancer, diabetes, obesity and other ailments so researchers can study the diseases and test possible treatments. The rodents can also be inbred so that genetic differences between them disappear, making every offspring an identical twin, an ideal research situation.


Most major institutions have their own mouse labs, sometimes part of a larger animal research lab. At Rockefeller University, 120,000 mice are kept in a building on Manhattan's wealthy Upper East Side.


Dr. Fred Quimby, director of the Rockefeller lab, said 20 percent of his operation would be shifted to Yonkers, allowing the school to expand the lab without paying for more New York City real estate.


Other hospitals and medical schools involved include Columbia University, the New York University School of Medicine and the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.


Pooling the institutions' mouse-raising space "will generate a lot of efficiency, a lot of economy of scale," Mitchell said.


Inside the Rockefeller lab, it's easy to see how labs could save money by sharing space and equipment and how the Yonkers building might look when it's finished at the end of next year.


The 83 mouse rooms are like walk-in closets, with cages lined up on shelves on two sides. In the middle is an examining table that looks a little like a small salad bar, complete with a sneeze guard. Here a researcher can handle the mice _ carefully, since any mouse that hits the floor is considered contaminated and put to death, Quimby said.


Death is a common and sometimes expected outcome of mouse research, and many of the cages have notes attached _ "mortality x 1" or "mortality x 2" _ that mark where the little rodents gave their lives for science.


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