When studying human diseases, nonhuman primates provide one of the best animal models. Humans and monkeys bear a close genetic relationship, reflected in many anatomical, behavioral, developmental, physiological, and reproductive similarities. Monkeys in breeding colonies can live well past their normal lifespan in the wild, providing opportunities for research on aging-related diseases. Because of these close similarities, nonhuman primates have played a critical role in biomedical and behavioral research.
These are many examples of how research in nonhuman primates has extended our fundamental knowledge of how the human body functions in health and disease. Monkeys are susceptible to an immunodeficiency virus similar to HIV, making them ideal for the study of AIDS and potential vaccines and treatments. Similarities in the central motor pathways between monkeys and humans have led to the development of safe and effective interventions to slow the progress of Parkinson’s disease. Monkeys are the only mammalian animal model with menstrual cycles and hormonal patterns comparable to humans, providing crucial insights into fertility, pregnancy and menopause.
Many serious diseases still threaten our well-being: AIDS, Alzheimer’s, cancer and Parkinson’s disease, to name a few. Research toward developing ways to treat and prevent these and other ailments involves the use of animals before the treatments are used in humans, as required by the FDA.
Today more than ever, researchers understand the responsibility that comes with the privilege of working with animals. Their work involves not only a duty to provide a humane environment for their animal subjects, but to minimize the number of animals used, to make their involvement in research as comfortable as possible and to look for alternatives to their use in scientific studies whenever possible.
Nonhuman primates represent only about one third of one percent of animals used in biomedical research.