To a Mouse…


It is doubtful the great romantic poet Robert Burns was contemplating governmental shutdowns when he penned his 1785 poem, “To a Mouse on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough.” John Steinbeck’s classic 1937 novel Of Mice and Men was named after a line from the Burn’s poem, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men.” But who would have thought a mouse could literally be affected by the closing of government offices?

An important element in healthcare includes research and technology. Tens of thousands of mice are used in clinical research on diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome and cancer. Believe it or not, thousands of these very mice will die as a result of the shutdown. Many will be killed to avoid overcrowding, while others will die since they require daily monitoring by scientists banned from federal research centers.

The current government shutdown promises to go on for weeks. Carol Greider, recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize and a John Hopkins’ researcher, attested to how these absences could potentially impact studies relying on mice. “Not being able to breed mice for several weeks could shut down years’ worth of experiments,” she said.

When we consider how the government shutdown is affecting the nation, we usually think in terms of finances. In reality, how many lives could be lost when a year’s worth of research is wasted? The best-laid schemes are potentially killing both mice and men.