Harvard Pulls Plug on Primate Research Center

In a stunning move, Harvard University announced in April that it was closing the New England National Primate Research Center (NENPRC). The closure—to be finalized by 2015, with the Center’s almost 2,000 monkeys placed at other labs—follows repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which had forced Harvard to convene a committee to review and improve operations at the off-campus facility. The National Primate Research Center system was established by Congress in 1960, and the NENPRC is one of the original seven. The closure of such an important, historical part of the primate experimentation system is significant.

The university claims that this decision was based on a shift in long-term strategies and straitened research funding (despite the fact that the annual cost to keep the Center open over the next five years represented only about a tenth of a percent of the university’s 2012 operating costs). The media, likewise, seemed unconvinced by the spin. As Popular Science wrote, “We're pretty skeptical that the animal rights violations and ensuing press had nothing to do with the shutdown, but that's the official word from Harvard.”

In fact, industry insiders told AWI that the longstanding animal welfare violations and resulting publicity “played a big role in Harvard’s decision,” and that the university wanted to “lance the boil” on its reputation caused by NENPRC’s record. It became big—and embarrassing—news for Harvard when the Boston Globe reported last year that the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International, in a highly revealing and unusual move, had suspended Harvard’s accreditation. The closure of NENPRC does not mean the end of all primate experiments at the university. NIH-funded experimentation on monkeys will continue at Harvard Medical School.