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Harvard winds down New England Primate Centre

Harvard Medical School (HMS) plans to wind down operations at its New England Primate Research Center (NEPRC) over the next 12 to 24 months, the university has announced.

The medical school said in a statement on 23 April that it would not seek to renew a five-year federal grant through the National Institutes of Health to continue operating the center. Its leadership has begun to work with NIH on a transition plan for the NEPRC, which is one of eight National Primate Research Centers supported by that agency, the school said.

The decision to close the NEPRC was “extremely difficult”, the medical school said, citing groundbreaking research that has been conducted at the centre over the past five decades. The final decision was a strategic one that was based on a review of the long-term academic benefits and the financial cost of continuing to operate the NEPRC, the school explained.

“Deciding how to best assign our limited resources is not unique to HMS,” said Jeffrey Flier, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of Harvard University, “but this decision was made with a heavy heart”. He expressed confidence that HMS could achieve its research goals through collaboration with a “vibrant national scientific community”.

The primates at the centre will either be moved to other sites, including the other national primate research centres, or they will be managed at the NEPRC in accordance with approved protocols.

The NEPRC has faced controversy in the last few years. In February 2012, the dean of HMS’ faculty of medicine, Jeffrey Flier, announced an immediate halt to all new research protocols and new research on existing protocols at the centre. That action followed the fourth monkey death at NEPRC in less than two years. Soon after that, NEPCR’s head, Fred Wang, announced his resignation.