Hundreds of OSU research animals die
Medical research at the Ohio university suffers; incident caused by overheating following power failure
Medical research at Ohio State University
(OSU) suffered a blow last week when overheating at an animal facility following a power failure killed nearly 700 laboratory mice and rats.
"Some of these are one-of-a-kind transgenic animals that can't be replaced," said Caroline Whitacre
, vice dean for research at the university's College of Medicine
. "That's absolutely tragic."
The deaths happened at OSU's Graves Hall vivarium, which houses more than 5,000 small animals used in multiple sclerosis, cancer, circadian rhythm, and other studies. The disaster affects the projects of 21 faculty members, said Earle Holland, assistant vice president for research communication at OSU. "Our first priority is to ensure the health and well-being of the remaining animals," he said. "It's going to be a while before we know the long-term effects on them."
According to Holland, the problem started at 6.30 p.m. on July 12 with a power outage that affected at least six buildings on the medical campus. One of the two main power lines to the campus had been shut off to connect some construction trailers to the power network, he said. Until power was restored -- between 11.30 p.m. on July 12 and 2 a.m. the following morning -- Graves Hall was dependent on emergency generators, which run the fans but not the air conditioning. "Clearly it was an unforeseen circumstance," Earle said.
To make things worse, the building was set up to have the heat come on when the main power failed -- a safety measure used in winter, but normally turned off in summer, according to Whitacre. This might explain why the temperatures in some parts of the facility exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, even though the outside temperature was barely above 80, she added. Among the victims of the overheated building were transgenic mice being used in Whitacre's research on the progression of multiple sclerosis
. "My own research is set back by six months," she said.
Graves Hall is one of the oldest of the 19 animal research facilities
on the OSU campus. It underwent a million-dollar renovation earlier this year -- including a new power outage alarm that failed to function, according to Whitacre.
In a similar incident
last April at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo, a brief power outage shut an air compressor off at an animal facility, disrupting the balance between the heating and cooling systems. The temperature in the building shot up to 120 degrees for several hours, killing about 150 mice, rats, and rabbits.
OSU's animal research programs have been in the spotlight on a few previous occasions. Last year, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that opposes live animal research, filed an unsuccessful lawsuit
to obtain videotapes and other materials from an OSU program that teaches scientists how to induce and study spinal cord injuries in laboratory rodents. Earlier this year, in a failed bid to prevent an OSU chimpanzee center from closing, a primate researcher physically chained herself
to the gate outside the center.
OSU's animal facilities were accredited in 2003 by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Care (AAALAC
) International, a Rockville, Md-based nonprofit that offers a voluntary evaluation of animal research facilities worldwide. Among other factors, the accreditation process verifies that the facilities can provide acceptable temperature and humidity conditions for its animal residents, said John Miller, the association's executive director. While accredited facilities have backup options to deal with power outages, a disaster such as the one at OSU, "while not common, is not wildly uncommon," he said. "There could be devastating results from simple things like a stuck valve or a switch in the wrong position -- and it doesn't take long."
Links within this article
Ohio State University
OSU College of Medicine
ND Powell et al, "Cutting edge: macrophage migration inhibitory factor is necessary for progression of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis," Journal of Immunology
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OSU's animal facilities
Truman State University lab animal deaths
T. Agres, "PCRM denied access to research," The Scientist
, March 20, 2006.
A.McCook "Fighting for the right to research," The Scientist
, February 28, 2006.