Scientists discuss the importance of primate models for advancing knowledge in biomedical and biological research.

Presenting an honest, forthright discussion of the ethical considerations of using nonhuman primates (NHP) in research, and demonstrating the vital role NHP have played in many of the medical and scientific advances of the past century, 14 scientists, including CNPRC researchers Drs. Karen Bales, John Capitanio, and Lisa Miller, collaborated to publish a comprehensive article in the American Journal of Primatology entitled “Why Primate Models Matter” on April 15, 2014 (Early View).

Addressing some of the current topics of research with NHP, Dr. Kimberley Phillips, Department of Psychology, Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas and her co-authors discuss how NHP animal models are ideal for studying: atherosclerosis, behavior, cognition and language, cognitive aging, developmental programming, genetics, HIV/AIDS, immunology, neuroscience, pharmacology, reproduction, and respiratory diseases.

Nonhuman primates and humans have a high degree of biological similarity in their neurology, immunology, reproduction, and development, and there are many diseases and conditions that can only be studied in NHP. Nonhuman primates provide scientists and physicians with irreplaceable opportunities to understand, treat, and prevent these human diseases and disorders.

Yet, because NHP are so very similar to us, the use of these animals in research must be carefully considered and conducted in a controlled and thoughtful manner.

To address these issues, the authors are among the scientists that are advancing and exceeding standards of NHP care by carefully considering the animal’s needs beyond food, housing, and veterinary care, and giving substantive attention to the issues of NHP cognitive and psychological needs. The authors write “Efforts are now made to enhance psychological well‐ being through social housing, addressing the specific social and development needs of infants and aged individuals, and providing environmental enrichment.”

Thanks to NHP research, German measles, polio, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and many other diseases are very rare today. Major medical advances have been made in treating heart disease, AIDS, cancer, diabetes, asthma, influenza, malaria, and others, making these diseases more survivable. Newly emerging global infectious diseases (Ebola, SARS, Marburg, avian and swine influenzas) continue to threaten our health. NHP researchers are working to develop treatments and cures for the above diseases and conditions, as well as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, obesity, arthritis, infertility, aging, and others.

According to the authors, “we are at a critical crossroads in our society and unless NHP research is given the philosophical, emotional, and financial support and infrastructure that is needed to sustain it and grow, we are in danger of losing irreplaceable unique models and thus, our ability to continue to explore and understand, and develop preventions and treatments for numerous conditions that inflict great suffering on humans”.

These researchers are making significant progress in improving human and animal health, and animal welfare, at their research facilities worldwide. They are from the California National Primate Research Center (NPRC), Southwest NPRC, Yerkes NPRC, WaNPRC, and Wisconsin NPRC, Wake Forest University School of Medicine; Rijswick, The Netherlands; the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Cell Biology; Neuroscience Institute and Language Research Center, Georgia State University; Center for Pregnancy and Newborn Research, University of Texas Health Science Center; Baylor College of Medicine, Texas; and Wake Forest University School of Medicine.