Harvard to close primate lab

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  May/June 2013:

BOSTON––The New England Primate Research Center is to close by 2015,  the Harvard Medical School announced on April 24,  2013.   The center houses about 2,000 monkeys,  among them about 1,500 rhesus macaques and colonies of cotton-top tamarins and squirrel monkeys,  and hosts about 130 current studies, employing 200 scientists and primate caretakers. Most of the monkeys and research projects will be transferred to other institutions,  National Institutes of Health deputy director James Anderson said. Harvard spokespersons said none of the New England Primate Research Center monkeys would be killed due to lack of placement opportunities.

Located in Southborough,  Massachusetts,  30 miles from the main Harvard campus in Cambridge,  the New England Primate Research Center is among eight regional primate breeding and research facilities funded by Congress in 1960.  Opened in 1962,  it was among the first in operation,  reportedly received the most federal money over the years,  and will now be the first to cease operation.

In addition to the original eight regional primate research centers,  the NIH funds nine other major primate breeding,  research,  and retirement colonies.

 “A Harvard Medical School animal facility with 42 primates in the Longwood Medical Area will continue to operate,”  reported Carolyn Y. Johnson of the Boston Globe.

The New England Primate Research Center has sporadically been a protest target,  beginning circa 1986,  but the distance of the facility from Cambridge and Boston appeared to discourage sustained protests of the intensity of those directed at several other regional primate centers,  notably those in Madison, Wisconsin,  and Yerkes in Atlanta.

The Harvard Medical School decision to close the primate center appeared to represent a decision to stop throwing good money after bad––though Harvard officials insisted otherwise.  The New England Primate Research Center in recent years had been put on probation by the Association for Assessment & Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International,  and was fined by the USDA for incidents including the June 2010 discovery of a dead cotton-top tamarin in a cage that had been run through a sanitizing machine resembling a giant dishwasher;  repeated discoveries in 2012 of severely dehydrated tamarins and squirrel monkeys in cages with malfunctioning water bottles,  some of whom were euthanized as irrecoverable;  and an October 2012 monkey escape that ended in the animal’s death.

“Harvard had invested significant resources to correct the care and oversight problems that resulted in the monkey deaths,”  reported New York Times science writer Henry Fountain.  “The school said it had decided that ‘winding down’ the laboratory’s operations ‘was more beneficial to the school than investing further resources.’” Elaborated Johnson of the Globe,  “This year,  the primate center projects it will receive $27 million in US funding,”  Johnson added,  “but universities are bracing for reductions in federal support because of recently enacted spending cuts.  The medical school estimates that over the next five years,  the primate center would demand an investment of $20 million to $25 million from the school.”

In addition to the animal care deficiencies,  the New England Regional Primate Research Center was embarrassed by the September 2012 disclosure that an NIH investigation had found eight instances of scientific misconduct by former Harvard primate cognition researcher and psychology professor Marc Hauser.

Summarized Johnson,  “A three-year internal university investigation that concluded in 2010 found six cases in which Hauser engaged in research misconduct in work supported by the National Institutes of Health.  One paper was retracted and two were corrected,  and other problems were found in unpublished work.”

Hauser left Harvard in mid-2012.  He no longer does non-human primate research.

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