New Report Alleges More Monkey Deaths at Research Center

The Harvard-run New England Primate Medical Research Center has come under additional scrutiny following allegations that between 1999 and 2011, a dozen monkeys were found dead in their cages or euthanized at the center.

The news, first reported in The Boston Globe, comes about three years after the center, which is known for its HIV and neuroscience research but is set to close at the end of next month, came under fire for the care-related deaths of monkeys between 2010 and 2012.

The primate center is located in Southborough, Mass., run by the Medical School, and affiliated—according to its website—with the National Institutes of Health. The Globe report, released on Tuesday, details the cases of 12 additional monkeys who, according to records provided by a former leader of the center, were dehydrated when they died, all between 1999 and 2011.

According to the documents, which Dr. Frederick C. Wang first provided to the Globe and later shared with The Crimson, the dead monkeys lived in cages that had a number of issues—one cage was not equipped with a waterspout, another had a malfunctioning water line. Another monkey could not drink her water because she snagged her tooth in a jacket.

Wang, who served as interim director of the center at the the end of 2011 and the start of 2012—when three monkey deaths at the center were reported to the government—referenced a 2014 study that concluded that the primates stopped drinking because they fell sick. However, Wang said in a statement that he thought the human error in the “inadequate animal care” of the monkeys contributed to, and potentially skewed, the data.


The paper resulting from the study suggests that monkeys can spontaneously develop hypernatremia, which often results from dehydration. Wang challenged this paper, saying in his statement that it could inspire “unwarranted research.”

In an email, Wang wrote that he received the spreadsheet data detailing the monkey deaths from one of the authors of the 2014 study, Andrew Miller.

Medical School Dean Jeffrey S. Flier could not be reached for comment on Tuesday night, nor could David Cameron, a spokesperson for the Medical School. A statement the Globe attributed to Harvard said that the center had not reported all of the deaths to the proper internal committee. The statement also said that when the school was notified of the data Wang shared with the Globe, “we consulted with the appropriate regulatory authority and proceeded as we were advised.”

The new report is not the first about care-related deaths at the primate center. In December 2013, the government fined the Medical School $24,036 for animal welfare violations, which included infractions relating to four primate deaths at the center.

In 2012, Flier suspended new experimentation at the center after five monkeys died within 19 months at Harvard facilities. In the recent Globe article, though, Flier said that the closure of the research center was not related to the animal care issues. Flier told The Crimson in 2013 that the center closed due to a lack of resources.

However, critics of the center question Flier’s justification for the closure. Alicia M. Rodriguez, president of the Harvard Law School Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, said she did not think it was a “coincidence” that the closure of the center was announced in the midst of scrutiny surrounding the monkey deaths.

“[With] multiple violations, it doesn’t seem to me that it was feasible for them to continue running the lab,” Rodriguez said. “I think the legacy was already a negative one, and the new documents that have come out have added to the negative press and the negative reputation the primate center has.”

—Staff writer Mariel A. Klein can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mariel_klein.


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