Harvard to Shut Research Center Warned on Monkey Deaths

Harvard Medical School said today that funding pressures are forcing it to close the New England Primate Research Center where the deaths of four monkeys drew government warnings.

The school said in a statement that it will wind down operations by 2015 instead of seeking to renew a 5-year federal grant that helps fund the center. The center is one of eight such U.S. facilities supported by the National Institutes of Health.

“Deciding how to best assign our limited resources is not unique to Harvard Medical School,” said Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Medicine, in the statement.

The research facility received warnings from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for monkey deaths in its labs. They included a cotton-top tamarin monkey that died of thirst last year and a monkey that died after being left in a cage as it went through a mechanical washer.

As the center winds down operations, Flier said it will “maintain a high level of care” for the primates so that they won’t “be adversely affected by the transition.” He also said the university “can achieve our research goals through collaboration with a vibrant national scientific community.”

Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the U.S., said in the future, biomedical research at Harvard and other institutions will use other approaches involving “human cell systems” or computer algorithms to assess test results.

“Harvard’s decision is an indicator of where science and animal testing are moving in the years ahead,” Pacelle said in an e-mail.

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