Johnson Named Interim Director of Primate Research Center

UPDATED: May 23, 2012, at 2:11 p.m.

Associate professor of medicine R. Paul Johnson has been appointed the new interim director of the New England Primate Research Center after former director Frederick Wang resigned, following the death of four primates in the Harvard Medical School laboratories.

The announcement was made in a letter on Monday from Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of Harvard Medical School.

Johnson will assume the position as interim director at a precarious moment for the Center. In the last two years, the deaths of nine animals across several separately registered Harvard-affiliated research facilities—four of which were primates—caused an outcry among animal rights activists and the Harvard community.

In the wake of the deaths, NEPRC began an overhaul of its policies and procedures, revising quality control and operations during the last few months.

Flier acknowledged the recent controversy in the letter announcing Johnson’s appointment. “Over the past several months, enormous progress has been made at NEPRC, resulting from a comprehensive needs analysis and the implementation of an action plan designed to help ensure the health and welfare of the Center’s primates,” Flier wrote in an e-mail according to the Boston Globe.

Flier said that Johnson was selected in part to shepherd these changes while the Center searches for a permanent director.

Johnson has served as a leading researcher in HIV and SIV, the strain found in non-human primates, for the past twenty years. His research group, which is comprised of three postdoctoral fellows and a graduate student, focuses on immunological responses to the disease and treatment within these organisms.

“Paul has been an integral member of the team contribution to this transformation,” wrote Flier. “I am confident that through his ongoing leadership we will continue the rigorous and ongoing process of quality improvement at the Center, while fostering a culture of transparency.”

—Staff writer D. Simone Kovacs can be reached at dkovacs@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Fatima N. Mirza can be reached at fmirza@college.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: May 19, 2012

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that nine animals have died at the New England Primate Research Center. In fact, as of January, nine animals had died over the past two years at Harvard-affiliated research facilities, and four of those deaths took place at NEPRC.

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