Southborough primate center under investigation for unapproved procedures

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Southborough primate center under investigation for unapproved procedures

By Brad Petrishen, MetroWestDailyNews.com, August 18, 2011

SOUTHBOROUGH —The federal government is investigating Harvard Medical School's New England Primate Research Center following a report that the lab conducted multiple unapproved procedures on primates.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the procedures were discovered by a faculty committee responsible for overseeing the use of research animals.

"At the end of June 2011, it was discovered...that there has been more than one instance when procedures were performed on study animals that were not described in the (committee's) approved proposal for animal use," USDA inspector Paula Gladue wrote.

Harvard Medical School did not specify the nature of the procedures in a statement issued yesterday, and a spokesman for the university said he was not aware of the specific concerns.
"We immediately engaged two external consultants and initiated a review process while taking action to reinforce strict compliance with established protocols," the university wrote. The university will increase already ongoing efforts to restructure administrative oversight.

"It was the new management structure introduced in January that led to the reinvigorated monitoring program that identified (this) issue," the school wrote.

In addition to checking the health of all primates at the center, the school said it also temporarily halted new research protocols, retrained its employees and appointed a subcommittee to review the matter in depth.

The USDA report notes that the self-reported findings will be further investigated by the USDA's Eastern Regional Office, but does not say what potential consequences the university could face. USDA spokesman Andre Bell said yesterday he couldn't comment on the matter until the investigation is complete.

The compliance issues at the Primate Center - which houses 1,800 primates at its facility on Pine Hill Drive - are not the only ones the school is facing. According to Gladue's report, employees at the Harvard Medical School campus in Boston had to euthanize a primate after an anesthetist gave it too much anesthesia during a surgery.

Last fall, the USDA placed the Primate Center on notice after a June 2010 incident in which officials found the dead body of a monkey in a cage that had been sent through a cage-washing system.

The USDA indicated that the center could face penalties of up to $3,750 for future individual violations of the Animal Welfare Act. It is not clear whether that warning also pertained to experiments performed at the university's Boston campus.

Michael Budkie, Executive Director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an Ohio-based animal rights organization, has filed a complaint against the university with the USDA demanding serious penalties.

"It is clear that the staff of this lab, according to the inspection reports of the USDA, is unqualified," he wrote. "How many more animals have to die due to negligence before the Eastern Regional Office of the USDA does something about it?"

It seems unlikely Harvard will face penalties for the death of the primate at its Boson facility, as Gladue wrote in her report that she felt the university took appropriate steps to correct the issue. The school was ordered to correct several other issues at its Boston campus, however, including flaking paint and rust in a surgical room, dirty chairs and uncovered trash containers.
(Brad Petrishen can be reached at 508-490-7463 or bpetrishen@wickedlocal.com.)

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