Non-Human Primates in Research
Highly intelligent creatures such as rhesus and cynomolgus macaques, squirrel monkeys, capuchins, baboons and marmosets are among the many species of nonhuman primates used in biomedical and behavioral research – ostensibly because they are so closely related to their genetic cousins, the human primate. In 2010, 71,317 primates were used in research protocols in the U.S., an increase from previous years. Interestingly, 54,435 of those animals were categorized as “Animal Not Yet Used,“ indicating that a great surplus of nonhuman primates are not involved in active protocols, but instead are being housed for future research. Many of the primates that are involved in active research protocols are used in preclinical research and testing. Most are used in experiments to evaluate medicines and vaccines or to understand the mechanisms of human disease and infection.
Researchers use the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), the nonhuman primate counterpart to HIV, in primates in an attempt to find a treatment for human AIDS. Nonhuman primates are also used extensively in behavioral research, and have been used in alcohol, drug, obesity and maternal deprivation studies. They have also been used in stem cell and organ transplant research.
The close evolutionary link between humans and nonhuman primates has created the perception that they are the most relevant models of human physiology and disease. But it is the slight differences in DNA that not only account for the differences in physical appearance and intelligence among primates, it is the differences in the patterns of DNA expression within specific tissues that can result in dramatically different response to disease and treatments.