Jackson Lab develops mouse-DNA freeze kit

Posted Feb. 17, 2009, at 9:14 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The Jackson Laboratory has created a new way scientists can genetically preserve mouse strains without having to ship live mice to the lab or handle the technical logistics of storing the samples themselves.

The lab’s new sperm cryopreservation kits, which lab officials have said represent a “do-it-yourself” system, allow scientists to deep-freeze their own mouse DNA samples without having to send mice to Jackson Lab and have the lab’s staff do it for them. The cost of the kit includes cryogenic storage at Jackson Lab’s Bar Harbor campus, either in private, protected storage or in a facility where the samples are made readily available to other nonprofit research institutions.

Joyce Peterson, spokeswoman for the lab, said Monday that one of the goals of marketing the kits is to make it easier for scientists to share with the global research community the specialized mouse strains they develop

“We’re trying to cryopreserve strains that might otherwise be lost,” Peterson said. “We’re making it easy and cheap to do this.”

Dr. Robert Taft, director of Jackson Lab’s reproductive sciences program, said Tuesday that before the kits were developed, scientists had to ship live mice to the lab in order to have a sample of mouse sperm put into deep-freeze storage, where it could be extracted later and used to fertilize embryos. Having Jackson Lab staff do all the work could cost $1,800 to $2,000 per strain, and that did not include shipping costs, which could be an additional couple of hundred dollars, he said.

The cost of the kits is not cheap by many standards, but they are less expensive than previous cryopreservation methods, Taft said. Depending on a kit’s capacity, which varies from three strains to nine strains, the cost of using them to cryopreserve the mouse sperm runs between $1,000 and $1,200 per strain, which includes shipping costs.

By reducing these costs, Taft said, researchers can devote more funds — which often come from public sources — to other research functions. Developing a unique genetic strain of mouse can cost tens of thousands of dollars, he said, but the cost of the kits can reduce expenses enough to develop strains for which they otherwise might not have the money.

“What we’ve really tried to do is reduce the cost of cryopreserving strains,” Taft said.

With each kit, scientists get almost all the materials they need, including a detailed list of instructions for first-time users. The one thing not included in the kits is the liquid nitrogen researchers need to deep-freeze the sperm, according to Taft. Most research institutions have their own supply, he said, and shipping the chemical can be costly and complicated.

The cost of the kits includes quality-control measures at Jackson Lab to make sure the sperm can be used again after being frozen, he said. Not all labs offer this service, which could result in frozen sperm not being usable for fertilization, he said.

Researchers are not required to ship their preserved strains back to Jackson Lab, according to Taft, but the price of the kits is not affected if researchers decide not to use the lab’s storage capabilities.

A kit that can preserve three strains of mouse sperm costs $3,550, while those geared for six strains costs $6,625, according to information posted on the lab’s official Web site, www.jax.org. The third type of kit, which can preserve nine strains of mouse sperm, costs $9,550.

Development of the kits stems from a breakthrough in sperm cryopreservation techniques that lab officials made in 2007, according to Taft. With the improved preservation method, Jackson Lab scientists improved the success rate of fertilizing eggs with sperm that had been cryogenically frozen, especially among some genetic varieties that previously had low fertilization rates, according to lab officials.

The lab is in the process of getting a patent on the new cryopreservation technology, Taft said. By purchasing kits, researchers will be licensed to use the technology for the number of strains associated with the type of each kit they buy.

According to a prepared statement released last week by Jackson Lab, the lab has preserved more than 7,500 unique strains of mice during the past 30 years or so. Besides preserving mouse sperm at its Bar Harbor campus, Jackson Lab also has a traveling “freeze team” that can go to a client scientist’s lab to perform the cryopre-servation procedure on-site.

The kits are available only in the United States and Canada, but the lab is planning to distribute them worldwide.

Jackson Lab, which employs more than 1,300 people in Bar Harbor, is known worldwide as a leader in biomedical research. Scientists at Jackson Lab use mice to study human disease and medical conditions and breed numerous strains of mice that are used in similar research projects around the globe. Last year, Jackson Lab was estimated to have shipped 2.5 million mice to approximately 16,000 researchers in more than 60 countries.

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