By Jess Scanlon
There may be a few party animals on campus, but the Science and Technology Center on the Lawrenceville campus is home to many real animals, including hundreds of mice.
Unlike their cousins in the wild, including the field mice native to this area, the lab mice are specially bred for life in the lab. At Rider they are used both in the lab and occasionally in the classroom.
“The mice allow us to gain knowledge in years rather than a lifetime,” said Dr. James Riggs, professor of biology. “They are human models.”
His research deals with the biology of the mouse, specifically its immune system, which is analogous to that of a human.
Riggs explained that the mice at Rider are also used to teach students about animal husbandry and how to care for animals in the lab. Riggs estimates the mice to number in the hundreds but below a thousand. This large population resides in a vivarium in the Science and Technology Center, an enclosed animal colony that includes special heating, lighting and ventilation to keep them healthy.
“It is an enriched environment where they can be themselves, hide and play,” said Eric Balboa, a freshman behavioral neuroscience major.
Balboa worked with mice for his independent project in his Principles of Biology class.
“I found it fascinating to view the natural world from a new perspective,” he said.
Lab mice are a domesticated form of the rodent species. They typically live two years in the lab as opposed to a single year in the wild. Rider’s mice come from a facility in Jackson, N.J., which is the world’s leading supplier of lab mice.
“Mice are great to work with,” said Kelley Vandergrift, a senior biology major and research assistant. “Working with them allows us to help humans.”
Vandergrift is involved in an experiment dealing with the effects of chemotherapy upon memory and neurogenesis, the process by which the brain’s neurons are created. This research is being conducted by students under the supervision of Dr. Todd Weber, an associate professor of biology.
Mice are protected on the federal level under the Animal Welfare Act, a law first passed in 1966. This law classifies them as “animals,” giving them protection under the law that can be enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture and other authorities.
“The feds can come and inspect at any time,” said Dr. Jonathan Karp, professor of biology, who studies the effects of environment on the physiology and behavior of the mice.
He continued that federal inspections are “random and unannounced” and that those who do not comply are shut down.
There are also state and local laws regarding animal welfare as well as the Rider Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, a committee that includes Rider administration, faculty, community members and an on-staff veterinarian who inspects the facilities every six months. If they fail inspection, the vet has the power to shut down the labs. Rider’s labs consistently pass this inspection.
“The university personnel and students conducting the research make animal welfare a priority,” said Dr. James Castagnera, associate provost and a member of the committee. “I believe the quality of care and oversight for the animals’ health have contributed to the lack of concerns on the Rider campus.”