No more monkey business at UM 

The University of Montana is in the process of closing its Animal Learning Lab’s primate facility following a recommendation from a university committee that concluded the lab poses risks to humans.

According to Dr. Daniel Dwyer, vice president for research and development at the university, the lab is not in compliance with evolving federal guidelines for housing rhesus macaque monkeys (the lab currently houses four).

“The lab did not have the correct setup to allow the cages to be cleaned and sanitized according to federal regulations,” Dwyer said.

UM’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee urged the closing after the U.S. Department of Agriculture toured the facility and deemed it not up to par, Dwyer said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, monkeys in the macaque family naturally carry herpes virus B. Though macaque-to-human infections are relatively rare, the disease is nothing to monkey around with.

About 40 cases of zoonotic (animal-to-human) B-virus infections have been reported since the first infection occurred in 1932. The latest death from B-virus occurred in 1997 when a 22-year-old worker at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory University in Georgia died 42 days after biological material (possibly fecal) from a rhesus macaque splashed into her right eye.

Dwyer said there have never been any injuries or infections related to UM’s primate lab, but referred to the Yerkes case and said, “The risk is real.” He added that it could cost up to $100,000 to update the facility to federal requirements.

“Right now we’re in the process of making sure we find a good home for these monkeys where they won’t be used for medical research,” said Dwyer, who described the monkeys’ current function at UM as “cognitive research.”

Dwyer said the research and development department doesn’t like to close down facilities like the primate lab, but added that in this case it was the right call.

The closing of the monkey lab has no long-term implications for UM’s research goals, Dwyer said.

“Research is doing very well. Last year we took in grants and contracts totaling $65 million. We hope to increase that by $5 million this year,” he said. “Research [at UM] is strong, growing and viable.”

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