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Tropical Terror 'Allison' Destroys Valuable Research

Tropical storm "Allison" has taken dozens of lives, but as CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell reports, the storm's toll extends to lives not saved.

When Allison's heavy rains pounded Houston last weekend, few could have imagined how devastating a single half hour could be. Besides damaging scores of homes and businesses, rising floodwaters also dealt an unexpected setback to medical research.

Within 30 minutes, the basement at Baylor College of Medicine was totally flooded. Years of medical research, expensive equipment, and some 35,000 lab animals were submerged and destroyed by gushing water.

"The power of water is just remarkable," says Jim Patrick, a spokesperson for the Baylor College of Medicine. "It looks as though someone came through with a jackhammer."

Baylor officials say the flooding will likely impact most, if not all, of the school's 500 research programs--everything from cancer to heart disease to hepatitis to AIDS. The school is also one of the three national centers for the human genome project, where lab animals are genetically engineered to test treatments for human diseases.

Norman Greenberg lost mice that were being used to test a new prostate cancer treatment. "The development of drugs and new compounds, new therapies, takes a lot of time," he says. "So, as we were undertaking, we may have lost or at least suffered severe setbacks."

To what extent the research was set back is still unclear. Some estimate that it could take several years to breed new animals and collect new data.

At the University of Texas Health Science Center down the street, researchers hauled dry ice into the building in an effort to save frozen tissue and bacteria samples that weren't destroyed when the power went out. Here, too, some 4,700 animals, including monkeys and dogs, drowned when 10 million gallons of rushing water flooded the basement labs.

"It's been an emotional time," says Chris Smith, a spokesperson for the University of Texas Health Science Center. "The scientists are extremely upset and certainly, all of the graduate students that work in their laboratories are equally upset."

Students whose ruined research was the basis for their theses may now have to start over again.

"For some, more time might mean 2 weeks, but it's not inconceivable that for some people it will be much, much longer," says George Stancel, of the University of Texas Health Science Center.

Researchers are still struggling to retrieve what little is left, but as scientists, they are used to both success and failure.

"Well, I think this is really an incredible loss for Baylor, for the scientific community; but in Texas spirit, we will come back," says Greenberg. "Yes, we will."
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