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NYU loses lab mice, years of medical research to Sandy

Because of power outages and flooding, the school has reportedly lost biological material stored in coolers, and lab mice kept in the basement of one of its animal research facilities.

In the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, researchers are discovering the damage the done to one of New York University's research facilities and mourning the loss of lab animals and of scientific data that could take years to rebuild.

Workers busy evacuating hospital patients were not able to rescue lab mice from the flooded basement of NYU's Langone Medical Center. National Institute of General Medical Sciences

After the New York Daily News reported on Tuesday that flooding and power loss claimed the lives of thousands of lab mice as well as wiping out enzymes, antibodies, and DNA used in cancer and other research, the NYU Langone Medical Center confirmed in a statement released yesterday that its Smilow building was "adversely impacted" by the speed and severity of the flood surge.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of these animals' lives and the impact this has on the many years of important work conducted by our researchers," the statement read.

When scientists create transgenic mice, where certain genes are selectively tweaked to better understand the roles they may play in, say, disease, it can take generations of breeding and documenting to obtain results. And while the beauty of using mice in labs is that they breed so quickly (multiple times a year), a lot of research still requires several years of breeding.

"If I were to lose all my mice in one fell swoop, I'm basically starting from scratch and have lost three years of work," Ashley Seifert, who researches tissue regeneration at the University of Florida in Gainesville, told LiveScience, adding that it's the equivalent of losing the only copy of a typewritten novel in a fire.

The storm could not only deal a blow to the research itself but also to the researchers, many of whom are Ph.D. candidates who could lose funding or simply not have the time to start over.

ABC reports that the power failure cut access to the 13-floor building, which employs electronic key cards, but on Wednesday scores of researchers did their best to salvage whatever they could from the center's thawing freezers.

ABC also reports that it's still unclear whether any of the lab mice and rats kept in the center's flooded basement have survived, but that there is a strong rotting smell owing to the absence of ventilation.

The 50-year-old building is at sea level and was flooded when Sandy's record-breaking tides swept over lower Manhattan. Though the building is reported to have at least two diesel generators, flooding caused the one in the basement to fail, which in turn cut off fuel to the one on the top floor. The center evacuated some 300 patients over 15 hours, including 20 babies in the neonatal ICU, but was not able to rescue the animals and specimens.