Interim Director of NEPRC Aims To Improve Animal Care Following Deaths

As the new interim director of the New England Primate Research Center, Harvard Medical School professor R. Paul Johnson will look to improve animal care practices in the facility that has come under fire for multiple animal deaths in recent years.

Over the past two years, four primates and five other animals—a dog, a goat, a sheep, and two rabbits—have died in several separately registered Harvard-affiliated laboratories. Following two recent primate deaths at the NEPRC, former director Frederick Wang announced his resignation in March.

Since the beginning of Wang’s term as director last September, the NEPRC received multiple citations from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Over the course of the past few months, the center has begun implementing stricter regulation and policies to address the animal safety complaints. According to Johnson, the center has identified areas for improvement and has quickly taken steps to improve animal care.

“We’ve instituted training for a new group of employees who are undergoing training now and instituted a second round of quality control checks on animals,” Johnson said. “We are in the process of hiring additional animal care supervisors, both senior veterinary technicians and assistant animal care supervisors.”

Johnson said that he welcomes feedback from the University community and farther afield as he heads up reform efforts at the NEPRC. “We are continuing to get input from a variety of different resources both within and outside the University,” he said. “We look forward to getting those recommendations and implementing them.”

Though Johnson said that “our first priority is to ensure the quality of care provided to our animals,” he added that he hopes to improve other aspects of the NEPRC as well as he takes the reins. In particular, he spoke of his desire to “reinvigorate” the research efforts at the facility, which currently specializes in studying AIDS pathogenesis and vaccines, cancer, neuropsychiatric diseases, drug addiction, and new treatments for Parkinson’s disease.

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

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