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HMS To Close Primate Research Center

By Samuel Y. Weinstock, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Medical School’s New England Primate Research Center will largely discontinue its operations by 2015, the Medical School announced Tuesday. In a statement, administrators attributed the anticipated closure to financial pressures and did not directly mention the accusations of negligent primate care that have plagued the NEPRC in recent years.

“I want to extend my appreciation to the faculty and staff of the NEPRC for their contributions to the lifesaving research that has been conducted at the center over the past half-century, invaluable work that advanced our shared mission to improve human health,” University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 said in a statement.

Located 25 miles west of Boston in Southborough, Mass., the NEPRC is one of only eight Regional Primate Research Centers in the United States and—like its counterparts across the country—is largely supported by funds from the National Institutes of Health. According to the NEPRC website, the focuses of its research divisions include AIDS, cancer, neuropsychiatric disorders, drug addiction, and neurodegenerative disease.

The decision to “wind down” operations at the Center means that it will not try to renew its five-year grant from the NIH.

“Deciding how to best assign our limited resources is not unique to HMS,” Medical School Dean Jeffrey S. Flier said, according to the Medical School’s release. “But this decision was made with a heavy heart.”

The NIH, like many other government agencies, is expected to sustain substantial cuts as Congress trims federal research dollars in an effort to control budget deficits.

“Difficult choices must be made at a time when all of the revenue sources upon which a research university depends are under pressure, and the future of federal support for scientific inquiry seems uncertain,” Garber said in his statement.

The Center has come under fire in recent years after a string of animal deaths and subsequent allegations of negligence prompted the Department of Agriculture to cite the NEPRC numerous times for the improper or insufficient care of primates.

In 2012, after five primates at the Center died within a span of 19 months, the Center’s interim director Frederick Wang resigned and Flier suspended new experimentation at NEPRC.

The statements from both Garber and the Medical School said that the Center will ensure that its primates receive proper care during the transition. The animals will eventually move to other centers or be kept on the current NEPRC site if necessary.

The Medical School’s statement said that the NEPRC is also working with the NIH and University to ensure research activities continue or are moved to other centers with the “least possible disruption.”

“The Center’s research focus on HIV, infectious disease, and vaccines will continue to be effectively pursued through scientific programs throughout HMS,” Flier said.

—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached sweinstock@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @syweinstock.

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