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Scientists oppose proposal to close UK mouse-research centre

1 July 2019
Appeared in BioNews 1004

More than 150 researchers have backed a letter written by senior scientists protesting the move to close one of the UK's leading mouse-genetics centres at the Harwell Institute in Oxfordshire.

Fourteen Harwell leaders and senior scientists wrote an open letter stating that the closure would be 'a major threat to mouse genetics in the UK', and could threaten research on diabetes, neurodegenerative disease, child deafness and other genetic conditions.

Reported last week in the Guardian, the Medical Research Council (MRC) recommended that Harwell's Mammalian Genetics Unit (MGU) should be 'discontinued', dispensing with all academic research at the site. This prompted concern from employees, who said they had not been consulted on the matter, and criticism from the wider genetics research community.

'We don't understand the decision,' Professor Steve Brown, director of the MGU, told the Guardian. 'We need to have a pause to consider the impact on British science.'

'I am dismayed at this decision... the mouse genetics research that has been carried out at Harwell had been world-leading,' said Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, chair of trustees at the Progress Educational Trust (which publishes BioNews) and a researcher at the Francis Crick Institute in London. He added that it was 'extraordinary' for the recommendation to be reached without wider consultation. 

The MRC stated that this decision was not an indictment of the quality or value of the work done at the MGU, but instead reflected the changing scientific landscape. The MRC is now developing proposals in line with the recommendation and in consultation with staff. A final decision on the MGU's future will be made in December.

This announcement comes shortly after another UK genomics institution, the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, decided to close its animal research programme. These plans may be welcomed by people who oppose the use of animals in research, but many in the scientific community and elsewhere are concerned.

Professor Bart De Strooper, director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, said via Twitter that 'the UK can ill afford further loss if we wish to remain at the forefront of biomedical research, and ultimately improve lives'.

Genomics institute to close world-leading animal facility
Nature |  29 May 2019
Prominent Mouse Genetics Center Could be Shuttered
TheScientist |  21 June 2019
Proposal to close UK mouse-research centre is ‘major threat’
Nature |  26 June 2019
UK's leading mouse genetics centre faces closure
The Guardian |  20 June 2019
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