The research center recently underwent a thorough investigation following the death of four monkeys, upon which inspectors identified significant violations of animal welfare rules. However, the school leaders pointed out that the decision to close down the center wasn't related to this issue.
In fact, they said that the decision to close down the center was based on the financial cost of continuing operations being too high. It was a very difficult decision to make, especially given the vast amount of research that has been carried out over the last fifty years.
Jeffrey S. Flier, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of Harvard University, said:
"Deciding how to best assign our limited resources is not unique to HMS but this decision was made with a heavy heart. I am personally committed to instituting a transition that embodies our tremendous respect and gratitude for the Center's faculty and staff, and one that guarantees the welfare of all animals in our trust. I am also confident that we can achieve our research goals through collaboration with a vibrant national scientific community."
Harvard will begin working with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to move as much work as possible to another National Primate Research Center.
Over the past ten years there's been very limited external funding for scientific research at NEPRC. Harvard Medical School evaluated the costs of continuing operations at the center, but decided that winding down operations was more beneficial to the school in the long-term - it would become more effective in funding other missions.
The school will provide support to the work of the staff, who have to make sure that the animals are not badly affected by the transition to another research center. In addition, they intend to continue the scientific work currently being carried out by moving them to other centers.
Over the past two years, the NEPRC has implemented new procedures that improved the Center's day-to-day activities, serving as a example for other institutions across the country. However, many of these changes were found to be extremely costly.
"We are extremely proud of the contributions the NEPRC has made to improving human heath over the past nearly 50 years. We believe primate research is critical to the future of biomedical research and the effective development of lifesaving therapies. The Center's research focus on HIV, infectious disease and vaccines will continue to be effectively pursued through scientific programs throughout HMS."
Some of the major contributions to science that the NEPRC has produced, include:
- Discovering that AIDS is caused by a virus
- Development of the first animal model of AIDS
- Providing evidence that a vaccine against AIDS is possible
- Discovery of the oncogenic herpesvirus
- Development of the first animal model of progressive neurodegeneration in Parkinson's disease
- Improving brain imaging techniques for diagnosing Parkinson's disease
- New strategies for treating Parkinson's disease
Written by Joseph Nordqvist