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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Medical Research opened its new Gnotobiotic Mouse Core (GMC) Facility Thursday in Oklahoma City.

The center is the first of its kind in Oklahoma. It offers medical researchers the ability to raise and study mice in an environment free of germs and microbes, according to OMRF.

There are only a handful of “gnotobiotic” research centers around the country. The Oklahoma City facility will “play a key role as state scientists seek to understand how the microscopic organisms that populate our world affect our health.”

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“This capability is a powerful tool for researchers, as it allows them to observe the effects of specific microbes and their roles in the development of diseases,” said Sai Tummala, D.V.M., OMRF’s Associate Vice President of Comparative Medicine and Attending Veterinarian.

The facility consists of modular flexible film isolators, also known as plastic bubbles, that are home to colonies that specially bred mice.

OMRF says in the isolators, the animals can live their entire lives in a germ-free environment “without the trillion of microbes that exist in and on humans and animals under ordinary circumstances.”

Personnel who need access to the facility must gown up in sterile clothing, and undergo an air shower, removing any remaining pathogens.

Anything that comes into the facility, food, water, bedding for the mice, must also be sterilized.

The sterile environment allows researchers to compare germ-free animals with those raised normally. It also allows them to introduce a single microorganism or select group of microbes to study how they affect the health of the animal.

“We anticipate this new facility to spark substantial interest in the local scientific community and also attract new talented scientists to the region,” said Tummala.

The facility is located on the OMRF campus and operates as a shared research facility available to researchers across the state. Initial funding was provided by a grant from the Presbyterian Health Foundation.

“This new facility is critical for our research, because it will give us the ability to identify which microbes are responsible for influencing the development of or resistance to this disease,” said Deshmukh of Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease characterized by dry eyes and mouth.

Deshmukh will investigate why mouse models genetically engineered to show symptoms of Sjögren’s experienced significant changes to their microbiomes when they were relocated from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Oklahoma City.

The mice stopped exhibiting Sjögren’s symptoms at OMRF, alerting researchers that environmental factors must have impacted the mice and their ability to develop the disease.

“This project would not be possible without the availability of this germ-free environment. It’s a very exciting addition to our campus that will prove incredibly beneficial in a number of projects,” said Deshmukh.

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