About 2,000 monkeys at a Harvard Medical School research centre will be relocated to other laboratories around the country as the school shuts down the troubled centre, an official with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said on Wednesday.
The school announced on Tuesday that it would close the facility, the New England Primate Research Centre in Southborough, Massachusetts, over the next two years. Harvard said funding uncertainties were behind the move, but the laboratory has been cited several times 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 centre, which has operated for nearly half a century and has contributed to research on AIDS and other diseases. It is one of eight national primate research centres that, in all, received about $87 million from the NIH last year.
The NIH official, Dr. James Anderson, a deputy director, said there were currently about 130 research projects at the Southborough centre. NIH officials, along with representatives from Harvard and the other national research centres, will review them case by case, he said. According to a USDA inspection report in November, the centre has more than 1,500 rhesus macaques as well as other species, including cotton-top tamarins, which are among the smallest primates.
“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 NIH 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 on Wednesday.
In announcing that it had opted not to seek to renew a five-year NIH 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 USDA 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 sanitising 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 centre.
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 centre. — New York Times News Service
The laboratory has been cited several times in recent years by the federal Department of Agriculture for failing to comply with the Animal Welfare Act