Challenges continue for rebuilding scientific research lost in Sandy
When Superstorm Sandy flooded NYU Lagone Medical Center last October, over 300 patients were evacuated from the hospital, which lost power and was later closed for nearly two months. The water also swamped the basement of the building’s research center, where 7,000 cages of research mice used for studying cancer, diabetes and brain development were housed. Researchers lost some 600 mice in the flood, most of which were specifically engineered to carry genetic mutations to mimic human conditions such as autism and other health issues.
Scientists say the cost of losing the mice will be tens of millions of dollars, and finding replacements could take another two years. While not all the mice were lost, those that survived were exposed to contaminants that affected their genetic modifications. The mice are tailor-made and most strains can only be found in select labs throughout the world. The Langone scientists have contacted labs in Switzerland and Germany for help in rebuilding their mouse colonies; in the U.S., The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine is working to help recover the lost mice by creating over 200 types of genetically modified mice to send to the New York scientists. In the wake of this devastating loss, NYU Langone officials say they are now developing better evacuation procedures to prevent future storm disasters, as well as waterproofing strategies for the labs. A new research building is also scheduled to open in 2016 and will store lab mice on the third floor.
R&D facilities present a unique set of risk management challenges when it comes to planning for a disaster. It takes months and sometimes years to recreate the characteristics of a colony of lab animals and can potentially cause a major setback to product development. Take a look at the freezer malfunction last year at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont that left several of the world’s largest autism brain samples damaged and decayed.
Thoughtful planning to protect research should be done by all facilities, that incorporates sound risk management techniques – such as the use of higher floors in flood prone areas for special project – and design an insurance program that addresses the unique exposures associated with storing such valuable research.
About the Author
Amy Sinclair is an Executive Vice President and co-leader of the Life Sciences Practice in WGA’s Property and Casualty Group. She negotiates, implements and manages comprehensive insurance programs for a variety of clients, ranging from venture-backed start-up organizations up to publicly traded companies.