Stimulus money headed to primate facility in Southborough

Michael Morton

The New England Primate Research Center has been awarded $5.1 million in federal stimulus money for its investigations, as well as for a contract tied to developing a vaccine for Marburg and Ebola viruses.

That project is spearheaded by Boston University's medical school, which will not be using live virus and is still awaiting approval for a high-security lab in Boston's South End to handle such sensitive research.

Harvard Medical School, which oversees the primate center, declined comment on the grants.

A spokeswoman for BU's medical school confirmed its $946,000 award but could not reach the lead investigator to obtain project details and the primate center's precise role.

The primate center tally comes from, a federal Web site that maps out stimulus spending. The site also lists BU's winning proposal, described as an effort to develop a single vaccine for the often-fatal viruses that cause hemorrhagic fever in Africa.

The enigmatic category includes Ebola and Marburg, with fatality rates ranging from 15 percent to 90 percent and no licensed treatments or vaccines available. To handle live Marburg and Ebola viruses, researchers must work in a Biosafety Level-4 lab, the most secure kind.

The primate center's own grants including funding to improve vaccine and disease progression testing for HIV and its primate version; study alcoholism, drug addiction and neuropsychiatric disorders; examine ties between metabolic disturbances and the onset of diabetes and dementia; and determine the role of genes in susceptibility to AIDS.

One of eight National Primate Research Centers, the Southborough facility had 1,800 primates as of 2003. It's not clear if it will expand its population under the new grants.

In 2003, a squirrel monkey escaped from a center truck before being struck and killed on a Maynard road. Officials at the time said the escape was the center's first in its 38-year history.

In 1997, animal rights supporters protested outside the facility, which is off Pine Hill Road, near the Framingham border. The center has said that the primates are well cared for, with all testing proposals evaluated to ensure the procedures are needed to accomplish worthy research.

The center has cited accomplishments in the fights against AIDS, cancer, leukemia and Parkinson's disease.

Michael Morton can be reached at or 508-626-4338.