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Passing the Hat

A week after Hurricane Sandy destroyed part of New York University's medical research laboratories, including 40 strains of mice crucial for neuroscience research, the crowdfunding site Microryza has kicked off an effort to support recovery efforts at the university.

Microryza says it's waiving its standard processing fee so that all funds collected go directly to NYU.

Meantime, research service marketplace Science Exchange is also waiving its fees for researchers affected by the storm. So far, the Mouse Biology Program at the University of California, Davis, the Animal Models Core at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Gene Targeting and Transgenic Facility at Roswell Park have pledged support for researchers working on transgenic mouse projects.

These efforts arise as NYU is facing some criticism for not following government guidelines for protecting research animals — particularly thousands of mice housed in the basement of an NYU facility near the East River that drowned in the storm.

The National Institutes of Health requires its grantees to follow National Academy of Sciences animal care guidelines, which state that facilities that use animals in research must have a disaster plan. However, as Reuters notes, the guide "does not prohibit housing lab animals in basements and does not specifically address the threat of floods."

Even if NYU didn't explicitly breach the NAS guidelines, "anybody with half a brain knows you do a site-specific analysis" to understand the risk of disasters, Fran Sharples, director of the NAS Board on Life Sciences, tells Reuters. "And it's really stupid to put your animals in the basement if you're in a flood zone."

Animal rights group PETA is also critical of how NYU handled the situation.

"NYU knew for days the storm was coming but still left 10,000 terrified animals trapped inside their tiny cages in its secretive basement laboratories as waters rose," says Justin Goodman, PETA's associate director of the laboratory investigations department. "This is probably a violation of federal animal welfare policy, and it also shows once again that experimenters view animals as disposable equipment who can carelessly be left to drown during a disaster."

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