In a surprise move, Harvard Medical School has announced that it will be shutting down the New England Primate Research Center (NEPRC) over the next two years, citing shifting priorities and challenges in obtaining external funding as main reasons.
The Medical School said in a statement that after reviewing “the long-term academic benefits and the financial cost of continuing to operate” it made the decision to wind down operations over the next 12 to 24 months, instead of renewing a five-year federal grant to keep going and added that it will be working with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on a transition plan.
Located in Southborough, Mass., NEPRC is one of eight National Primate Research Centers operating in the U.S. and has had its share of negative attention over numerous animal deaths and allegations of negligence that resulted in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) opening an investigation and issuing stern warnings about the ongoing problems with animal care and violations of the Animal Welfare Act and state animal cruelty laws. No penalties were ever given.
In 2010, an endangered cotton-top tamarin was found dead after being sent through a cage washing machine. While it was determined that it had died before going through, the USDA issued a warning. Three more troubling fatalities followed that were the direct result of a lack of proper care. A USDA veterinary inspector cited another death as the result of an under-qualified surgeon giving too high a dose of anesthetic that resulted in kidney failure and led to euthanasia. Another was left without water and had to be euthanized, while yet another died after escaping, being captured, and then undergoing an imaging procedure. Still other incident caused serious injuries.
Harvard Magazine reported on problems at NEPRC that were revealed through an investigation that Harvard initiated after the incident with the monkey in a cage that turned up “systemic issues” that “revealed a series of troubling gaps and breaks in the basic procedures and supervision that govern animal research. Some procedures were being conducted on animals without the necessary approval of an institutional committee. There was a pattern of incomplete medical records―including the absence of tuberculosis tests that are critical to maintaining the health of the colony.”
While the school maintains its reasons for closing, it’s a little hard to believe that the problems that have plagued the center had nothing to do with the decision.
“Last year there were two dozen negative news stories about Harvard due to deaths at the primate center in the Washington Post, Bloomberg, Boston Globe and other publications,” Michael A. Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), told the Worcester Telegram. “That level of negative media attention and last year’s resignation of the center’s director ― with all of that going on they had to do something to get out from under the scandal. The only thing left to do was to close the primate center down. They decided their reputation was more important than the primate center.”
According to the school, the center’s 2,000 monkeys will now “either be transitioned to other sites, including the other national primate research centers, or be managed at the NEPRC in accordance with approved protocols.”
However, the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine and SAEN have both announced plans to call on both Harvard and the NIH to retire them to sanctuaries instead.
Unfortunately, a medical school animal facility with 42 primates in the Longwood Medical Area will continue to operate, but the university is already invested in other alternative research, including organs-on-chips that are being developed at Harvard’s Wyss Institute. Hopefully, researchers there will continue to explore and develop ethical alternatives to the use of animals to study human diseases.
Thank you, Care2 members who signed the petition against Harvard’s Primate Research Center!
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