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U.S. Investigation Faults HMS Animal Research Facility

Department of Agriculture cites facility for death of a primate

By Nathalie R. Miraval, Crimson Staff Writer

A Harvard Medical School facility has received five citations from the United States Department of Agriculture, including for the accidental death of a second primate.

The July 19 inspection report states that the Medical School's facilities in Boston and Southborough—including the New England Primate Research Center sponsored by the National Institute of Health—did not meet necessary conditions set by the department.

Paula S. Gladue, a veterinary medical officer inspector, cited a facility conducting research in a separate facility in Boston for staffing under-qualified surgeons leading to the death of a non-human primate in February of this year. The report states that the research staff provided the primate with too high a dose of anesthetics, causing kidney failure. The animal could not be saved and was euthanized.

In June 2009, a non-human primate was also found dead in a recently sterilized cage in the NEPRC facility.

“This is the second time in just over a year that the death of a primate at the New England Primate Center has involved negligence,” said Michael A. Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now—an organization that focuses on ending animal abuse in laboratories. “How many animals have to be killed by carelessness before the USDA takes action against this criminal lab?” Budkie added in a press release.

The facility—which has been at the forefront of biomedical primate research since its founding in 1962—was also cited for unsanitary conditions, according to the USDA report. Unsanitary operating room conditions were also noted and included uncovered garbage bins, rusting equipment, and flaking paint near surgical operating tables, violations of the USDA regulations.

In response to the citations, NEPRC took cautionary moves to reestablish compliance with protocol. NEPRC staff researchers are undergoing extra training to avoid any further complications in the use of anesthetics and painkillers.

NEPRC has also altered protocol review processes, halted new research temporarily so that resources could be focused on gathering information to address potential issues, and appointed a subcommittee—consisting of members outside the school—dedicated to reviewing the matter at hand. At this time, the report states, the incidents addressed are considered to be corrected.

“We value the work and dedication of the faculty and staff at the NEPRC, recognizing that countless lifesaving therapies and interventions have been developed through ethical animal research and scores of scientific discoveries have led to improved human health,” NEPRC wrote in a statement.

NEPRC was also being cited for performing procedures on animals toward the end of June without approval from the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. That matter continues to be under investigation to determine corrective actions that should be taken.

“It is clear that the Harvard officials who are responsible for supervising animal research are not doing their jobs,” said Budkie. “How many more primates have died at Harvard due to negligence that we don’t know about?”

Budkie has contacted and filed a complaint with NIH, requesting an investigation and a grant refund from the projects.

—Staff writer Nathalie R. Miraval can be reached at nmiraval@college.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction.

CORRECTION: SEP. 2, 2011

The Aug. 31 article incorrectly identified the location of the facilities that had been cited for violations. The primate death cited by investigators occurred at a Boston facility and not one located in Southborough. The story also incorrectly said that the facility was cited for unclean food supplies. Additionally, all research was not halted at the facility; rather, new research was halted after the report.

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