April 26, 2013
On Tuesday, Harvard Medical School announced it would be closing its primate research lab located in Southborough, Mass., due to funding cuts and a tough economic climate, according to Boston.com. The school chose not to seek to renew a five-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant but to divert its current resources to other projects instead. Closure is anticipated within the next two years.
Despite its famed name and long history, the Harvard research lab has had its share of problems. The New York Times reports that a string of animal welfare incidents, including the death of a Cotton-top tamarin in 2010, have tarnished the research lab's reputation over the last few years. Another research animal reportedly died of dehydration in 2012. These incidents, among others, prompted an investigation and citation by the USDA.
Harvard officials maintain that the research lab's planned closure is not due to issues with animal welfare. Indeed, Jeffrey Flier, dean of Harvard Medical School, confirmed that the lab had simply become a victim of economic conditions. As well, the school announced that nearly 2,000 monkeys in the school's primate research lab will be in need of relocation as a result of the decision to close. None are to be euthanized.
"The decision that we made was a strategic, long-term decision and not based in any way on the problems we had over the last several years," Flier told Boston.com
The New York Times reports that currently about 130 research projects are being worked on at the school's research center. Some could potentially be moved to other sites. Including research faculty and support staff, the 51-year-old center employs more than 200 people and has contributed to important studies on AIDS and other diseases. It is one of eight primate research facilities around the U.S. that received money from the NIH last year.
Now that the decision has been made, Harvard Medical school will need to begin the task of finding permanent homes for the affected animals and transitioning the research lab's staff. Gina Vild, a spokeswoman for Harvard, explained that those first steps are already in process.
"We are in the early stages and focusing our attention on working with our faculty, staff and the N.I.H. in order to assure a transition that is orderly and respectful to all concerned, including the animals," Vild told The New York Times.
Not everyone is disappointed with the lab closure. According to a report from Metrowest Daily News, animal rights activists have been rooting for the center's closure since the death of the monkeys put the research lab in the headlines.
"The closure of Harvard's Primate Research Center is the best news I have ever heard," said Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now. "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."
Regardless of the reason for the lab's impending closure, Harvard is moving forward with its plans. In the meantime, professionals in the medical research community are working to accept that the lab will soon be closed for good. Nancy Haigwood, director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center, acknowledged the news of the center's closing with disappointment.
"It's very, very disturbing, disappointing, disheartening, shocking," Haigwood told Boston.com. "I think it's going to be very, very difficult to imagine that the investigators impacted by this decision will be able to keep up their momentum. We're talking about very talented senior investigators who are at the peak of their careers."
Compiled by Holly Johnson
"Harvard closing primate center in Southborough," metrowestdailynews.com, April 24, 2013, Kendall Hatch
"Harvard Medical School Plans to Close Primate Research Lab," nytimes.com, April 24, 2013, Henry Fountain
"Harvard to shut primate research center where monkeys died, citing tough economic climate," boston.com, April 23, 2013, Carolyn Y. Johnson