a black mouse held in a gloved hand
a black mouse held in a gloved hand

Prominent Mouse Genetics Center Could be Shuttered

Staff at the UK’s Harwell Institute were notified that a strategy board recommended halting its academic work, but a final decision is months away.

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Shawna Williams

Shawna joined The Scientist in 2017 and is now a senior editor and news director. She holds a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Colorado College and a graduate certificate and science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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Jun 21, 2019


Britain’s Medical Research Council has notified staff at its Harwell Institute, located near Oxford, that academic work there may end, following the recommendation of an internal strategy board, The Guardian reported yesterday (June 20). The change would mean the closure of the institute’s Mouse Genetics Unit (MGU), which employs 125 researchers and 40 support staff, according to the newspaper.

“We’re perplexed,” MGU director Steve Brown tells The Guardian. “We don’t understand the decision. We need to have a pause to consider the impact on British science.” 

According to its website, the Harwell Institute’s research areas include neurodegeneration, deafness, and diabetes. The institute’s Mary Lyon Centre, which provides mouse services to researchers, would not be affected by the proposed closure.

Noting the recent closure of another UK animal facility, that one run by Wellcome Sanger, Brown says in comments to The Guardian that to close both would be a “double whammy” for mouse research. “We have to be extremely careful that we do not undermine what is a critical area of biomedical science,” he says. “This is a major threat to UK science and a weakening of our position at the forefront of genomic and precision medicine.”

See “Wellcome Sanger Institute to Close Animal Facility

In its email to Harwell staff, the Medical Research Council (MRC) said that the proposed closure “is no reflection upon the value or quality of MGU science, but a reflection of the changing scientific landscape. Detailed proposals are now being developed in line with these recommendations, in consultation with staff. A final decision on the way forward will be made by MRC council in December 2019. MRC is supporting its dedicated staff during this challenging time,” The Guardian reports.

Robin Lovell-Badge, a geneticist at the Francis Crick Institute in London, tells the publication: “I am dismayed at this decision. The mouse genetics research that has been carried out at Harwell had been world-leading.”