Tag Archives: non-human primates

Hundreds of scientists sign letter supporting primates in neuroscience

Over 400 primate and neuroscience researchers signed a letter supporting the use of non-human primates in neuroscience, which was published in the Guardian today. Coordinated by Understanding Animal Research (UAR), the letter emphasises the key role that primate research has played and continues to play in vital neuroscience research. EARA signed the letter alongside 20 other institutions, as well as reaching out to our networks in Europe to gain further support. The letter can still be signed via this link.

The letter is a timely response to mounting pressure by animal rights groups against the use of non-human primates in biomedical research. Last week, the Independent published a letter coordinated by Cruelty Free International denouncing primate research, and earlier this year, the Australian Senate rejected a proposed ban on importing non-human primates for scientific research. The UAR letter is the latest in a series of efforts from the scientific community to underline the importance of this type of research, including the Foundation of Biomedical Research’s White Paper on primate research and the National Institutes of Health workshop held last week.

Kirk Leech, EARA’s Executive Director, said:

“NHP research continues to underpin our understanding of brain processes and debilitating brain conditions and allows assessing the efficiency and safety of a candidate drug. Animal research, in particular with regard to primates, is highly regulated on legal and ethical grounds as enshrined in European Directive 2010/63.

“Out of the 4.14 million procedures completed in the UK in 2015, only 0.16% were performed on primates, which accounts for 3,600 procedures. This number does not even represent the real number of primates used in procedures, since some animals undergo several procedures to reduce the use of animals. Out of this small proportion, only 0.8% were classified as severe. 

“Accurate and contrasted information is necessary to ensure a balanced dialogue that considers all risks and opportunities involved, especially in such a contentious issue as using primates in neuroscience research. We encourage and support the scientific community in the quest to provide timely and truthful information to promote scientific research.”

Full text of the letter:

Nonhuman primates have long played a key role in life-changing medical advances. A recent white paper by nine scientific societies in the US produced a list of 50 medical advances from the last 50 years made possible through studies on nonhuman primates. These included: treatments for leprosy, HIV and Parkinson’s; the MMR and hepatitis B vaccines; and earlier diagnosis and better treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome and breast cancer.

The biological similarities between humans and other primates mean that they are sometimes the only effective model for complex neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. More than 10 million people suffer from Parkinson’s worldwide, and a recent study estimated that one in three people born in 2015 will develop dementia in their lifetime. Primate research offers treatments, and hope for future treatments, to patients and their families. Already over 200,000 Parkinson’s patients have had their life dramatically improved thanks to deep brain stimulation surgery, which reduces the tremors of sufferers. This treatment was developed from research carried out in a few hundred monkeys in the 1980s and 1990s.

Given that primates are intelligent and sensitive animals, such research requires a higher level of ethical justification. The scientific community continues to work together to minimise the suffering of primates wherever possible. We welcome the worldwide effort to replace, refine and reduce the use of primates in research.

We, the undersigned, believe that if we are to effectively combat the scourge of neurodegenerative and other crippling diseases, we will require the careful and considered use of nonhuman primates. Stringent regulations across the developed world exist to ensure that primates are only used where there is no other available model – be that the use of a mouse or a non-animal alternative – and to protect the wellbeing of those animals still required. The use of primates is not undertaken lightly. However, while not all primate research results in a new treatment, it nonetheless plays a role in developing both the basic and applied knowledge that is crucial for medical advances.

For an up-to-date list of the signatories to the letter, see the website of Understanding Animal Research.

Studying the Zika virus in rhesus macaques

The 2016 Olympic Games are due to begin in Rio de Janeiro this weekend. In the lead-up to this year’s Games, the Zika virus has never been far from the headlines. A number of top golfers and basketball players have decided to pull out and other athletes have also expressed their concerns, despite the risk to anyone who is not pregnant being minimal. As it is not currently mosquito season in Brazil, experts say the Olympics will not accelerate the spread of the virus.

It is thought the epidemic has reached its peak in Latin America and will slowly burn out over the next few years. Still, there have been over 60,000 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Brazil since the outbreak began in early 2015 and the virus has reached Europe, with the first baby with Zika-related microcephaly born in Spain. Mosquitoes in Florida have now also been seen to transmit the virus, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US have issued a travel warning for Florida.

Dr Koen Van Rompay, D.V.M. Ph.D., virologist at the California National Primate Research Center

Dr Koen Van Rompay, virologist at the California National Primate Research Center, studies the Zika virus in monkeys

The Zika virus remains a prominent public health concern and a priority for the biosciences. In March, EARA spoke to Dr Koen van Rompay, who helped to develop and test the anti-viral drug tenofovir, which is currently the most frequently used HIV drug in the world. We interviewed him on the day before he and his team at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) infected two female rhesus macaques with Zika virus to understand how the disease progresses. We asked him about his current study on the Zika virus, why he uses primate models in his work and how he responds to critics of animal research. Continue reading

Australian Senate rejects bill to ban the importation of non-human primates

Last week, the Australian Senate released their report in response to a proposed law amendment to ban the importation of non-human primates to Australia for the purposes of scientific research. After receiving submissions opposing the bill from scientific organisations and individuals from around the globe, including EARA, the Senate has decided not to pass the bill. Continue reading

Babies’ sight restored thanks to new surgical technique first tested in animals

Thanks to an innovative new surgery first tested in rabbits and macaques, twelve babies born with cataracts have regained their sight.

The current way of treating cataracts is to surgically remove the clouded-over lenses and to replace them with artificial ones. But Kang Zhang and his colleagues at the Shiley Eye Institute at the University of California in San Diego found that stem cells around the lens can regrow healthy lenses if left undamaged by the surgery.

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Rhesus macaques taught to control wheelchairs by thought alone

From Professor Miguel Nicolelis’ lab at Duke University in North Carolina – the team of researchers behind the exoskeleton which enabled a paraplegic patient to kick off the 2014 football World Cup – now comes news of two rhesus macaques which have been taught to control a wheelchair using thought alone. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports on Thursday. Continue reading

Australian scientist stands up for primate research

There is currently a bill before the Australian Parliament, introduced by Green Party senator Lee Rhiannon, proposing to ban the importation of non-human primates (NHPs) for research purposes.

Image: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Image: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

In preparation for the hearing of the bill in Parliament in February, the European Animal Research Association helped mobilise the European scientific community to stand up in support of NHP research. Continue reading

The Research Animals That Have Made A Difference

Over the last 40 years, every Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine but one has depended on work using animals. From modern vaccines that protect us against polio, TB and meningitis, to the development of Tamoxifen that has led to a 30% fall in death rates from breast cancer, the role of research animals cannot be underestimated.

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