Harvard University’s announcement on Tuesday, April 23, that it will close its primate research center by 2015 was the result of an ongoing controversy about how it treats its research subjects, and a federal investigation, according to a national research watchdog group.
Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN) hailed the decision to shudder the center, but emphasized that it’s been an ongoing controversy following the negligent deaths of at least four primates at the New England Primate Research Center, not economics as the university claims, that led to the closure. Harvard is under investigation by the USDA for multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act. SAEN has photos from inside the primate center.
The announcement comes, coincidentally, nearly 30 years ago to the date (April 24, 1983) when the modern animal rights movement was born. Thousands of people demanded primate centers be close at rallies at the nation’s primate centers — including 5,000 people at Harvard, and thousands more at Emory’s Yerkes Primate Center (Atlanta), University of California/Davis and University of Wisconsin/Madison.
“Harvard wants the public to believe that this closure is due to economics,” said Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., Executive Director, SAEN. “That is simply not true. The only way Harvard could quash this scandal is to close the primate center, because even last year’s resignation of the Center’s Director could not end Harvard’s ineptitude. This closure is the direct result of work groups like SAEN who have pressured the government and Harvard to make change.”
“The closure of Harvard’s Primate Research Center is the best news I have ever heard,” added Budkie. “The potential exists to bring freedom to many monkeys and to redirect millions of dollars into clinical and epidemiological research which will more directly benefit humans.”
SAEN has announced plans to contact the Harvard Medical School’s administration to explore the possibility of placing at least some of the primates in sanctuaries. “These primates have suffered enough,” added Budkie. “They deserve a chance to have a new life in another environment where their needs will be put first.”
In a recent report, Harvard had the dubious distinction of being ranked No. 2 in the nation of labs which have negligently killed animals, according to a SAEN report analyzing hundreds of U.S. research laboratories that have violated federal law, and killed animals in some of the most prestigious institutions in the country.
SAEN said in its report that at least 901 laboratories — the vast majority of the estimated 1,100 in the U.S. — violated the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 2012. The AWA is the only law which regulates the use of animals in laboratories. All USDA reports are available upon request from SAEN.
Boston, MA (April 23, 2013) — Harvard Medical School announced today that it would wind down operations of the New England Primate Research Center (NEPRC) over the next 12 to 24 months rather than seek to renew a five-year federal grant to continue operating the Center, and indicated its leadership had begun to work with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on a transition plan.
School leaders acknowledged that the decision to wind down operations of the NEPRC was extremely difficult in light of the groundbreaking research that has been conducted at the Center over the past 50 years. As they weighed whether to renew the base grant from the NIH, HMS leaders made a strategic decision based on a review of the long-term academic benefits and the financial cost of continuing to operate the NEPRC.
“Deciding how to best assign our limited resources is not unique to HMS,” said Jeffrey S. Flier, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of Harvard University, “but this decision was made with a heavy heart.”
“I am personally committed to instituting a transition that embodies our tremendous respect and gratitude for the Center’s faculty and staff, and one that guarantees the welfare of all animals in our trust. I am also confident that we can achieve our research goals through collaboration with a vibrant national scientificcommunity,” he said.
The NEPRC is one of eight National Primate Research Centers supported by the NIH. Harvard has informed NIH officials of its intentions, and they have begun working together to transition as much of the work of the NEPRC as possible to the other National Primate Research Centers.
Driving the decision was the fact that the external funding environment for scientific research has become increasingly challenging over the past decade. Recent funding pressures have added uncertainty to this already- challenging fiscal context. As Harvard Medical School leadership evaluated the long-term need to use its resources in the most effective manner across all of its missions, they came to the conclusion that winding down the operations of the NEPRC was more beneficial to the School than investing further resources in maintaining and renewing the NEPRC grant. NIH and the University have been supportive of this decision.
A comprehensive plan is being activated to support faculty and staff transition during the wind-down period of 12 to 24 months. The School intends to support the work of the staff, and to provide training and other opportunities. Among the plan’s priorities is a staffing strategy that will maintain a high level of care for the animals, ensuring that primates will not be adversely affected by the transition.
The School is also working with the NIH and members of the scientific community on a plan for an orderly transition of the NEPRC research programs, ensuring the migration takes place with the least possible disruption, and that the scientific work of the NEPRC is continued.
The primates will either be transitioned to other sites, including the other national primateresearch centers, or be managed at the NEPRC in accordance with approved protocols.
The decision to conclude NEPRC operations follows a two-year period during which the Centerleadership successfully addressed operating issues with input from the NIH and other governing agencies. The process resulted in new procedures that have significantly strengthened the Center’s day-to-day activities and that can serve as a model for other institutions throughout the country. Many of those changes carried additional costs, and HMS will continue to make investments in the Center to ensure ongoing compliance with all federal regulations.
The various research interests represented at the NEPRC are essential to the HMS mission and will continue to be advanced by the School. There is also no doubt that the use of primates in certain areas of research will remain an essential meansthrough which critical knowledge will be developed now and in the future.
Flier said, “We are extremely proud of the contributions the NEPRC has made to improving human heath over the past nearly 50 years. We believe primate research is critical to the future of biomedical research and the effective development of lifesaving therapies. The Center’s research focus on HIV, infectious disease and vaccines will continue to be effectively pursued through scientific programs throughout HMS.”