New England Primate Research Center Being Shut Down

Brett Smith for — Your Universe Online

After dealing with the controversial deaths of four monkeys between June 2010 and February 2012, the New England Primate Research Center (NEPRC) is being shut down at the direction of Harvard Medical School.

Harvard officials said the closure is funding related and not the result of the primate deaths or the animal welfare violations found by the US Department of Agriculture´s subsequent investigation.

“Deciding how to best assign our limited resources is not unique to HMS,” Jeffrey S. Flier, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of Harvard University, said in a statement, “but this decision was made with a heavy heart.

“I am personally committed to instituting a transition that embodies our tremendous respect and gratitude for the Center´s faculty and staff, and one that guarantees the welfare of all animals in our trust,” he added. “I am also confident that we can achieve our research goals through collaboration with a vibrant national scientific community.”

The medical school used the facility to conduct clinical research on primates, including work on HIV vaccines.

“For us in the virology community, it´s a big loss,” Harvard microbiology professor David Knipe told The Boston Globe, “and it´s going to continue because we´re going to lose that community, that group of colleagues.”

According to a Globe report, news of the closing was announced to a room of shocked staffers at the facility in Southborough, Massachusetts.

“I think people did feel that they´d really turned a corner,” said Kim Van Savage, a human resources worker at the facility. “They´ve been through a lot of change; they´ve been through a lot of scrutiny. But a lot of work has been done at the center . . . so I think at this point, it took every­body by surprise.”

Medical school leaders said they plan on winding down activities at the facility over the next twelve to 24 months while working on a transition plan for the 20 faculty, 32 postdoctoral researchers and graduate students, and 150 staff members.

“Among the plan´s priorities is a staffing strategy that will maintain a high level of care for the animals, ensuring that primates will not be adversely affected by the transition,” a statement from the medical school said.

This year, the primate center said it is scheduled to receive $27 million in federal funding, but universities across the country are bracing for enacted spending cuts that are expected to reduce grant money. The medical school said the primate center would have demanded an ­investment of $20 million to $25 million from the school over the next five years.

“We are extremely proud of the contributions the NEPRC has made to improving human health over the past nearly 50 years,” Flier said. “We believe primate research is critical to the future of biomedical research and the effective development of lifesaving therapies. The Center´s research focus on HIV, infectious disease and vaccines will continue to be effectively pursued through scientific programs throughout HMS.”

Animal rights groups sounded their approval of the facility´s closing.

“I think it is a sign that things are moving in the right direction,” Kathleen ­Conlee, vice president at the Humane Society of the United States, told the Globe. “We´ve seen primate research in the US continue to go up over the years.”

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