The Jackson Laboratory is accusing a Chinese university of misusing its mice.
Jackson Lab — which makes a lot of money selling mice — is suing to stop a Chinese university it accuses of selling offspring of the genomics center’s mice used for research. The lab operates a research center in Farmington and is based in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Jackson Lab filed a complaint Monday in federal court in Maine. It’s seeking arbitration in its dispute with Nanjing University and affiliated research centers.
The research mice are a critical part of Jackson Lab’s business, accounting for millions of dollars in revenue. Mouse models of gene mutations with aspects in common between mice and humans can lead to new models of human disease, useful for drug screening, preclinical studies and better understanding of diseases and conditions, it says.
In court papers, Jackson Lab said it was acting to defend the integrity of its research.
It accuses the university and research centers of violating a 2004 agreement by selling to third parties mice that are descendants of certain mice purchased from Jackson Lab.
All mice and those bred from the mice purchased from Jackson Lab are subject to restrictions imposed by the agreement, Jackson Lab said in its lawsuit.
Xiang Gao, former director of the Model Animal Research Center who was named in the court papers did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Jackson Lab said an official of the Nanjing Biomedical Research Institute of Nanjing University assured Jackson Lab in April 2016 that it removed all Jackson mice from its website and stopped the sale of the strains of mice until it gets permission from Jackson Lab.
However, Jackson Lab said the research institute “continues to develop and transfer” mice that are advertised for sale. The mice are “clearly the descendants” of mice purchased from Jackson Lab for research purposes only, it said.
The sale of mice is big business for Jackson Lab, though it’s known in Connecticut for its genomic research. In its 2016 annual report, Jackson Lab called its mice an “international resource” and said they were distributed to more than 23,000 research labs in 52 countries.
It credits the mice for leading to breakthroughs in cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, cardiology, diabetes, glaucoma and other diseases and conditions.
Jackson Lab does not disclose revenue from its trade in research mice. It posted $231 million in revenue from its programs in 2016, or nearly 71 percent of total revenue of $327 million.
Jackson Lab ensures its mice are genetically consistent and those purchased from the lab, but bred and resold by an unknown third party, may be subject “to genetic variation through random mutation,” it said in its federal court filing.
Genetic variability in mice can introduce uncertainty into research results and “confound research findings,” Jackson Lab said.
“Because of this, the ability to control and consistently maintain the underlying genetic make-up of the mice sold to research institutions is of paramount importance to Jackson and to the research community at large,” it said.
A “crucial part” of its efforts to discover genomic solutions for disease and its work with other biomedical researchers and labs is making more than 9,000 strains of mice available to researchers investigating diseases and conditions, said Jackson Lab spokeswoman Stephanie Wasco.
“Our mice are the most published mouse models in the world for very good reason, and we take our relationships with research institutions around the globe very seriously,” she said.