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Today is the 13th day of the government shutdown, and over the last two weeks, the nation has watched as problem after problem has cropped up including a salmonella outbreak and a massive dolphin die-off. Now, thousands of laboratory mice used for research on diseases like Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome, and cancer may be slated for euthanasia thanks to the shutdown.

According to InTheCapital, the National Institute of Health (NIH) will have to kill off many of their mice because of overcrowding and the lack of scientists available to monitor the animals (most have been barred from their labs since October 1).

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Since staff at the NIH are not currently doing interviews, scientists at John Hopkins University have come out and discussed what the shutdown means for research and the animals.

Researchers are particularly afraid of losing so-called “transgenic mice.” They are a special variety of mice that were developed to carry genes that cause them to have human diseases, making them prime research specimens. One of these “transgenic” mice can cost a thousand dollars to replace, while others are considered irreplaceable, reports NPR.

The loss of mice doesn’t just mean lost dollars; it means lost data and research too.

“Not being able to breed mice for several weeks could really shut down years’ worth of experiments,” said Carol Greider, a John Hopkins researcher and 2009 Nobel Prize winner, via InTheCapital.

To combat mice overpopulation problems in labs affected by the shutdown, males and females would first be separated, which would require more cages and more space. If this approach proves to be a bust, then mice cages would be placed into a machine that “slowly brings up the carbon dioxide levels so [the mice] essentially get anesthetized and then they eventually suffocate,” reports NPR.

It seems that both with and without the government shutdown, the mice are ultimately the ones who lose. Either they are resigned to a life of medical probing and tests or death by suffocation. Perhaps these issues and the concerns of scientists could be mitigated if testing alternatives were brought into the picture. In this day and age and with all our wondrous technology, it’s hard to believe that the majority of research still depends on animal testing. It’s high time we make the switch to humane testing models and give these mice and other lab animals the freedom they deserve.

Image source: Rama / Wikipedia Commons

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