• July 14, 2020

‘It takes a toll’: researchers struggle with lockdown cull of lab mice

Coronavirus restrictions on research made colonies of rodents surplus to requirements, leading to an ‘emotionally overwhelming’ mass killing

Xiao-Tong Su, a postdoctoral fellow researching hypertension at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) apologizes to mice when she euthanizes them. “I try to think that they’re sacrificed for human health and for science,” she told me over the phone. As the owner of two pet rabbits, she had to switch to working with mice early in her career after repeatedly becoming too attached to rabbits she worked with.

In the world of medical research, mouse and rat euthanasia are par for the course. Once an experiment is complete, mice are typically rendered extraneous since they can no longer be used as a control, and are humanely euthanized. Most universities abide by a reductionist policy, using as few mice as possible – so whenever possible, one mouse can be used for more than one study. Depending on their work, grad students and postdocs will euthanize one animal per day. “It never gets easier,” Sayra Garcia, a second-year PhD student at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said.

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