By Henry Fountain, The New York Times, April 24, 2013
|The Harvard lab has been cited for cruelty|
About 2,000 monkeys at a Harvard Medical School research center will be moved to other laboratories around the country as the school shuts down the troubled center, an official with the National Institutes of Health said Wednesday.
The school announced Tuesday that it would close the facility, the New England Primate Research Center in Southborough, Mass., over the next two years. Harvard said financial uncertainties were behind the move, but the laboratory has been cited in recent years by the federal Department of Agriculture for failing to comply with the Animal Welfare Act, and four primates have died there since mid-2010.
The center, which has operated for nearly half a century and has contributed to research on AIDS and other diseases, employs about 200 people, including research faculty and support staff. It is one of eight national primate research centers that, in all, received about $87 million from the National Institutes of Health last year.
The N.I.H. official, Dr. James Anderson, a deputy director, said there were currently about 130 research projects at the Southborough center. N.I.H. officials, along with representatives from Harvard and the other national research centers, will review them case by case, he said. “They all work closely together; they know each other’s inventory,” Dr. Anderson said. “We’ll go through when and where to move the animals and projects.”
According to a U.S.D.A. inspection report in November, the center has more than 1,500 rhesus macaques as well as smaller numbers of other species, including cotton-top tamarins, which are among the smallest primates and are less commonly used in research.
“I think they’ll all find a place,” Dr. Anderson said.
Harvard has said that none of the animals would be euthanized. “We are in the early stages and focusing our attention on working with our faculty, staff and the N.I.H. in order to assure a transition that is orderly and respectful to all concerned, including the animals,” Gina Vild, a spokeswoman for the medical school, said Wednesday.
In announcing that it had opted not to seek to renew a five-year N.I.H. grant, the school said it had decided that “winding down” the laboratory’s operations “was more beneficial to the school than investing further resources.”
Among the incidents that prompted U.S.D.A. action, in 2010 a cotton-top tamarin that apparently died of natural causes was found dead in a cage that had been sent through a sanitizing machine. In 2012, a tamarin had to be euthanized after it was found dehydrated because of a malfunctioning water bottle in its cage. The medical school revamped some laboratory procedures and made some staffing changes.
The school disclosed to The Boston Globe last year that it had been put on probation by an international group that accredits animal-research programs; The Globe also reported on the plan to close the center. Chris Newcomer, director of the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International, said he thought there was no link between the animal-care problems cited and the school’s decision to close the center.
“I think science is much too big to close it simply because the U.S.D.A. criticized it,” he said. “It’s a very big and significant scientific endeavor.”
April D. Truitt, executive director of the Primate Rescue Center, a private sanctuary in Nicholasville, Ky., that is home to more than 50 monkeys and apes, said she was “a little skeptical” of Harvard’s claim that the closing had nothing to do with the animal-welfare violations. If the school wanted to put some or all of the monkeys in private sanctuaries, she said, there was plenty of room at facilities around the country. “It’s just a question of money,” she said.