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Nonhuman Primates in Research
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, 70,797 primates were used in “research, testing, teaching, or experimentation” in the United States in 2018, representing a 12% increase from 2017. An additional 35,221 primates were bred, conditioned, or held for use in teaching, testing, experiments, research or surgery but not yet used for such purposes. Nonhuman primates accounted for 10% of Animal Welfare Act-covered animals used last year.
Many species of nonhuman primates are used in biomedical and behavioral research, including cynomolgus macaques, rhesus macaques, pigtailed macaques, African green monkeys, squirrel monkeys, baboons and capuchins, among others.
Nonhuman primates are used for a diverse range of research. A study published in 2014 in the Journal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science assessed the types of biomedical research that rely heavily on nonhuman primates and determined that the majority of studies involve pharmaceutical research and development; neuroscience, neurology or neuromuscular disease research; vaccine development or testing; pharmaceutical preclinical safety research; and immunology or autoimmune disease research.
Nonhuman primates are also involved in research of infectious diseases, biodefense or biological warfare, cancer, cognition, behavior or psychological diseases, maternal deprivation studies, organ or tissue transplantation, aging or degenerative diseases, HIV/AIDS, surgical technique development, reproduction or reproductive diseases, biomechanics/biomedical device development, and imaging studies.
Invasive research on our closest relative, the chimpanzee, has finally come to an end. Chimpanzees had been used in diverse research areas including studies pertaining to hepatitis, monoclonal antibodies, infectious diseases, comparative genomics, neuroscience and behavioral research. A review of the necessity of chimpanzee use in biomedical and behavioral research in the U.S. was conducted in 2011 by the Institutes of Medicine and determined that the scientific necessity of chimpanzee research was very limited. The National Institutes of Health responded with an announcement that the vast majority of NIH-owned or supported chimpanzees would be retired to appropriate sanctuaries.
In 2015 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed the status of chimpanzees in captivity in the United States from “threatened” to “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which makes it even more challenging for researchers to exploit chimpanzees. Federal permits are now required for chimpanzee use and will be issued only for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the species. It is believed that this milestone officially represented “the beginning of the end of invasive chimpanzee research.”