BAR HARBOR — In less than 15 months, the Jackson Laboratory has returned its mice breeding capacity to within 79 percent of its production rates prior to the devastating fire on May 10, 1989, which destroyed the lab’s mice breeding facility.
Speaking to a group of journalists Wednesday morning, Dr. Kenneth Paigen, director of Jackson Laboratory, decribed the lab’s recovery as “remarkably successful in getting mice out as quickly as possible” since the fire.
Paigen said the fire, which destroyed 83 percent of the mouse rooms, 100 percent of the clean process facility, and 60 percent of the mouse breeding stock, has had an estimated annual impact of between $600 million and $700 million on scientific research throughout the country.
The total eventual cost of recovery from the fire, estimated at $32.3 million in capital reconstruction, does not include a projected operating deficit rate at just under $5 million each year until the facility is completely rebuilt.
Within three weeks after the fire, Paigen explained, the decision was made to rebuild quickly. “The lab had acquired the responsibility to provide research animals to the research community,” he said. “We decided that we could not renege on our responsibility.”
Citing the importance of Jackson Laboratory mice to the scientific research community, Paigen said that 96 percent of the mice used in AIDS research between January and August 1989 had come from the Bar Harbor lab. Two million mice per year were being sent to 11,200 laboratories before the fire, he said.
Case studies on the impact of the fire on the work of researchers in the United States found that some “were stopped dead” in their work, Paigen said. “The field of immunology was the worst hit.”
Paigen explained that the lab’s emphasis on a rapid recovery included the “commandeering of every square inch of space which could be used for mouse production. We started a crash program to repair the damaged rooms … and we brought in enormous trailers for breeding rooms.
“Eighty-five percent of the pre-fire breeding space is back,” he added, “although it is only temporary.”
Paigen explained that the lab is hoping for a $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to help with the recovery and construction costs. After an NIH site visit next week, a decision on awarding the funds should be made next winter.
The lab has received $10.8 million in insurance and has raised another $1.2 million in donations. An additional $10.3 million is needed, which Paigen said may also come from NIH. “Our hope is that there will be a second appropriation from NIH,” he said.
Paigen added that the lab’s recovery has been successful because its directors were willing to take a financial risk. “If we had waited for federal funding instead of investing our own dollars, it would have cost us at least two years in recovery.