In a surprise move, Harvard Medical School announced yesterday that it would be closing a controversial primate research center where four monkeys died between 2010 and 2012 because of problems with animal care. The New England Primate Research Center (NEPRC) in Southborough is set to be largely shut down by 2015, a decision that Harvard officials told the Boston Globe was mostly due to a difficult economic climate for biomedical research as the government cuts back sharply on spending. But it’s difficult to imagine that the animal welfare problems at the center—which was cited for violations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—didn’t factor into the decision to shutter the labs.
The decision is obviously going to be tough on the dozens of Harvard researchers whose work depends on lab primates. Nancy Haigwood, the director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center, told the Globe‘s Carolyn Johnson:
It’s very, very disturbing, disappointing, disheartening, shocking. 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.
Work with live animals is expensive, and budget cuts are impacting public funding for science across the board. Still, the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—which spends about $87 million supporting primate research centers around the country—noted that the decision was made by Harvard alone.