Mice that help save humans

By Xuan Ngoc   January 26, 2020 | 12:13 am PT
Mice that help save humans
Guinea pigs at the Suoi Dau Breeding Farm in Khanh Hoa Province, central Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.
A farm near Nha Trang raises nearly 20,000 guinea pigs and mice for vaccine research and production.

Around 20 kilometers from the beach town in the central province of Khanh Hoa is Suoi Dau Breeding Farm - Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals (IVAC) which supplies these animals for research into pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus and making vaccines against them.

A room measuring 200 square meters is divided into cells, each about a square meter in size and paneled with tiles and with a compartment for food and automatic water systems. Around 10 breeding mice pairs live in each cell.

Guinea pigs after 21 days of age that meet criteria such as having soft white hair, being active and not being pathogenic are transferred to facilities that need them.

There are nearly 15,000 mice and they bite each other and so are susceptible to infection. Therefore, the process of raising them involves constant monitoring of health and sterilizing everything around them.

The staff in the farm weigh and check on the guinea pigs and mice. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

The staff in the farm weigh and check on the guinea pigs and mice. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

The breeding mice are first raised separately. Then females and males are kept together for mating. After a week the females are separated again. Pregnant females g

ive birth after 18-21 days. Every year mice breed five to six times and each time have a litter of eight to 12. The young mice are used for experiments and other medical purposes.

Early every morning Le Thi Thu Ha, 47, deputy head of the farm comes around to check on and measure the body temperature of each mouse. Those with high temperatures and thus possibly ill are quarantined.

After that she removes the food compartments containing leftovers from the previous day and adds 3-4 cm long cylinder-shaped biscuits made from rice, fish meal, corn, and soybeans and steamed to ensure nutrition.

Green grass is added to the food supply to increase fertility. The living space is cleaned several times daily.

After graduating with a veterinary degree from the Agriculture and Forestry University in Thua Thien Hue Province, Ha has been working at the farm since 1997.

After a year of research she took on the task of monitoring and caring for the mice.

In the beginning the odor of mice clinging to her clothes made her feel very uncomfortable. But soon she got used to it. If a mouse was sick or gave birth she had to take extra care of them, which helped her develop affection for them.

"I have become so used to the mice that when I take a few days off, I miss them," she says.

Le Thi Thu Ha checks on a mouse in a separate cell. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

Le Thi Thu Ha checks on a mouse in a separate cell. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc.

Raising the mice is not difficult but requires kindness because she always has to keep an eye on them as if they are children, she says.

The 15 employees of the farm have to arrive every day before 7 a.m. The have to work until Lunar New Year’s Eve, share duties during holidays and return to work on the third day of the new year.

In more than a decade of taking care of the mice it has been routine to be absent from home during the Tet holidays, said veterinarian Ha Thi Nga, busy checking the temperature of some mice that have been separated from the rest. She carefully examines the fur, eyes and tail of each mouse.

The head of the lab animal husbandry division, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Trai, says guinea pigs and mice have similar genomes to humans and so are used in experiments for vaccines, biological products and serums.

Mice that are delivered from the farm need to have agility, smooth hair, bright eyes, and no scabies or tumors.

They are kept in quarantine for around three days at the new place and then tested.

Guinea pigs are injected in the thighs and abdominal cavity while mice are only be injected in the stomach. They are closely monitored for the first two hours and watched for seven days. During that period mice with abnormal signs are checked again.

"If the cause is their own conditions, they are put down, if it is due to the vaccine or serum, they are used," Trai explains.

Dr Duong Huu Thai, director of IVAC, says thanks to the dedication of those who work at the farm every year around 80,000 mice are supplied to research institutes.

New kinds of medicines are made based on studies done by using the animals which help prevent and reduce human disease, he says.

In the near future IVAC plans to breed mice from Switzerland and Thailand to meet the needs of researchers, he says.

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