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University of Iowa News

July 21, 2006

UI, Iowa Firm Partner To Build Better 'Mouse House'

With help from a new type of funding from the Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED), a University of Iowa researcher hopes to advance understanding of human eye diseases and in the process help an Iowa-based company build a better "mouse house."

Michael Anderson, Ph.D., assistant professor of physiology and biophysics in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, is the principal investigator of a $500,000 IDED contract to develop and use animal models for studying eye diseases such as glaucoma. A key partner in the contract is Techspace, Inc., a company based in Monona, Iowa that specializes in the design and manufacture of modular pre-engineered scientific laboratories, including buildings built to meet the special needs of animal housing.

Discoveries from mouse studies have paved the way for many advances in modern medical genetics. Specially bred or genetically engineered mice allow scientists to explore the causes of human disease and perform preclinical testing of potential treatments.

Recent genome sequencing projects confirming that mice and humans share very similar genomes, have further spurred the popularity of mice as research animals. An estimated 25 million mice are used in research each year worldwide.

Because numbers are so important to genetic studies, the ability to house large groups of animals is a key consideration for mouse studies and an influencing factor in the rate of progress toward new therapies for many diseases.

"Techspace makes mouse housing facilities for research institutions like the UI that are running out of mouse space," Anderson said. "These modular facilities have an external construction similar to many agricultural buildings, but on the inside they have all of the equipment that you would find in any state-of-the-art mouse facility. They can be constructed quickly and installed wherever there is space and the exterior can be customized to fit any environment."

With research space at such a premium, these facilities are more space efficient, cost efficient and time efficient than constructing a mouse facility as part of new bricks-and-mortar research buildings or using space in existing research facilities. In addition, the modular nature of Techspace's buildings means that additional facilities or facilities designed to accommodate different types of lab animals can be delivered quickly to keep up with the changing research needs.

"It is a very clever way for a company with an agriculture heritage to realize that the most commonly used, most profitable animals may not be agricultural these days, but rather may be research-based," Anderson said.

Prior to joining the UI faculty, Anderson was a post-doctoral researcher at the Jackson Laboratory, in Bay Harbor, Maine, which is the largest mouse facility in the world. Anderson received training in large-scale genetic experiments and his expert knowledge of the requirements for mouse facilities will help Techspace, Inc. continue to build their business.

"Our concept is to create housing space that meets all the requirements for safely and humanely housing animals in the most cost-effective way. This allows the research dollars to go further, and that's good for everyone," he said.

Anderson's UI collaborator on the IDED contract is Diane Slusarski, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Slusarski will use zebrafish to investigate eye disease. These common tropical fish are very useful lab animals. They are easy to manipulate genetically with transparent embryos that develop rapidly outside of the mother, allowing researchers to observe development in the living creatures.

"We are exploring whether these facilities could be adapted to house zebrafish, so we are also challenging Techspace's business plan a little bit," Anderson added.

The UI research efforts will receive $400,000 of the contract and $100,000 will go to researchers at Iowa State University who are using complementary approaches to study eye diseases.

Anderson notes that a goal of this type of state funding is to foster relationships between academic researchers and companies like Techspace, Inc. in ways that promote university research projects and also help generate jobs for Iowans.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACT: Jennifer Brown, 319-335-9917