Skip to main content

LARC to the rescue!




Kari McClimon pictured left and Courtney Rasbach right.

Today we have two special guest bloggers: Kari McClimon and Courtney Rasbach. As registered veterinary technicians here at the Indiana University School of Medicine Laboratory Animal Research Center (LARC), they provide a unique role in our spaceflight study.

As background, NASA is all about triple redundancy. For example, there must be three levels of containment for any samples (so if one fails it won’t leak and cause problems, etc.). Therefore, our mice need triple animal identification. The primary means of animal identification is a microchip implanted into the mouse (similar to those in pets). We also punch their ears so we can easily and quickly identify the mice.

Our third identification means has been a little more challenging. For some of our studies, we know the astronauts don’t care that this is mouse 36 out of 40, but they do care that the mouse is from group one, two, three or four (our four different experimental groups). They also want to be able to make that identification quickly as they only are allowed to work 6.5 hours each day. In order to quickly and easily identify these four groups of mice, we proposed to NASA that we would tattoo the mouse tail with either one, two, three or four lines.

In past NASA experiments, tail tattooing had been done but only by the mouse vendors who were experts at tattooing and “approved” by NASA. Since we wanted to do the tattooing ourselves, we needed to show that we were proficient at the process and that the tail tattoos would be easily identifiable by astronauts.

As I do not have a tattoo or have never tried to tattoo anything, this was certainly a new experience for me. Fortunately, our lead veterinarian and colleague at IUSM, Debra Hickman, DVM, MS, DACLAM, DACAW, introduced us to Kari and Courtney – LARC’s in-house tattoo experts. 

Before training started, Kari and Courtney advised us on the best tools to purchase as well as the best inks that would be visible on the mice – especially for the black mice. We ended up purchasing yellow, red, blue green and voodoo black ink as our most likely candidates. Once our ink and tattoo equipment arrived, “tail tattoo” training began.

Initially, Kari and Courtney had us practice on oranges. Once we became experts on the oranges (some of my students could have a second career as tattoo artist if the medical school gig doesn’t work out – as one made a fantastic eagle design which I brought home to show my kids), we moved to testing our skills on mouse carcasses (mice that had been euthanized from other experiments). Finally, we tested our techniques on live mice who were under anesthetic for surgery. We tested all of the colors and found that voodoo black was the best ink, lasting up to six weeks.

When we were at NASA Ames, we used our voodoo black ink and created the tattoos on the mice as we had in Indiana. Two days after surgery, we had the astronaut trainer examine our tattoos, and she approved them as easily identifiable by the astronauts. The mice were again examined 4 weeks later (the maximum time of our spaceflight study) and deemed successful.

There is now a new mouse tail tattoo identification method that NASA would allow for not only our studies but for future investigators as well.

So we have confirmed another critical aspect of our spaceflight mission with much thanks to both Kari and Courtney for their expert training and advice. Here are a few of their comments about their role in our success to date.

“When venturing into the training role, I never imagined how greatly LARC would impact others. I knew training would play a vital role in one’s experiment such as the Kacena lab, but have learned over time, that the training has extended and reached others beyond the labs we teach at our institution.  I think highly of NASA, respect and appreciate its work in how it helps others in the general public and scientific community.”  Kari McClimon 

“When Kari first asked me to help in teaching the Kacena lab how to tattoo their mice, I figured this would only go as far as helping the lab to keep track of their mice through a particular phase of their study; I had no idea just how far our impact would go. First off, it was great to work with the entire Kacena lab. They were very eager to learn and listened to us thoroughly through the instruction time. When training was done, it was a great feeling to walk away knowing that I just taught the lab a new skill they did not know previously. For me, it is always a great feeling to share my knowledge and help others better their skills. So, when I got the news that our training was able to impact far beyond just the lab and their immediate study it was the greatest feeling. I respect all that NASA and the Kacena lab is achieving and I am honored to be a part of an organization like LARC, which has allowed me to make a seemingly minimal yet remarkable impact in the work that is being achieved here today. I look forward to continuing to share my knowledge and skills to help better the research and impact labs or organizations for the future.” Courtney Rasbach

Written by Melissa Kacena with Kari McClimon and Courtney Rasbach

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Carl Pinkham