Animal models have been used extensively in the field of AIDS research since the early 1980’s. Many animals have been infected with the AIDS virus (HIV- human immunodeficiency virus), yet they don’t develop the AIDS-like syndrome that we see in humans. Our closest animal relative, the chimpanzee, had been used extensively in AIDS research, only to realize that that even chimpanzees do not develop human AIDS-like symptoms. Scientists continue to exploit animals in AIDS research by infecting them with HIV-like viruses; FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) in cats, and SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) in macaques, although these viruses differ markedly from HIV, and difficulties come from extrapolating data obtained from these studies.
While there is still no cure, great strides have been made in our understanding of the disease and how it spreads. But little, if any, of these developments can be attributed to animal research. It was through human epidemiological and clinical studies that we learned about the natural course of the disease and the associated risk factors. Testing of the efficacy and toxicity of anti-AIDS medications, like protease inhibitors, AZT, and 3TC, can be performed using cell culture techniques using human white blood cells.