Animals in Research

Texas Biomedical Research Institute’s Southwest National Primate Research Center has a long-standing commitment to treating its animals humanely and with the highest regard for their well-being. SNPRC works closely with regulatory agencies throughout the year to determine best practices to enhance care provided to the primates, for the sake of the animals and the quality of the research programs.

While some research questions may adequately be addressed using cell cultures, tissue studies or computer models, which we also employ at Texas Biomed and the SNPRC, research with animals continues to be critical for the advancement of human health. Disease processes are typically complex, involving multiple physiological processes and multiple organ systems that simply require the use of nonhuman primate models.

Research involving animals is evaluated and monitored closely at Texas Biomed and the SNPRC. An internal committee of scientists, veterinarians and even a community member reviews all requests involving the use of animals in research and requires justification of the choice of animal to be used, the numbers of animals to be used and the proposed treatment of the animals.

This committee also has the authority to prevent a research program from being initiated or to stop a research program if the committee determines that an investigator is not complying with the regulations or guidelines for the care and use of animals.

Virtually every major advance in medical knowledge and treatment has involved research using animal models. Animal research has saved lives, extended life expectancy, and improved the quality of life for both humans and animals by enabling scientists to conduct critical experiments that identified ways to prevent, treat, and cure disease.

Although less than 0.5 percent of all animals used in research are primates, work with these animals is important to scientific understanding of human health and disease. Future medical progress depends on this continued research. 

To understand the impact that animal research has had on all our lives, consider these examples of major medical breakthroughs that primate research has provided humanity.

  • Most of the nation's 1 million insulin-dependent diabetic individuals would not be insulin dependent – they would be dead.
  • Sixty million Americans would risk death from heart attack, stroke or kidney failure from lack of medication for high blood pressure.
  • Vaccines based on primate research have reduced the number of cases of polio in the United States from 58,000 to one or two per year.
  • Research with monkeys established that a specific bacterium is associated with periodontal disease. This disease affects 75 percent of all adults and is responsible for 70 percent of adult tooth loss. A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, flurbiprofen, was shown to be effective in halting the progression of periodontal disease in monkeys. This drug is now used in humans.
  • The use of immunoglobulin injections to protect against hepatitis A was developed in chimpanzees. Recently, a safe, effective vaccine for hepatitis A was developed through research with chimpanzees and tamarins.
  • The identification, isolation and cloning of hepatitis C virus was dependent upon research with chimpanzees.
  • Research with rhesus monkeys established the importance of a dietary amino acid, taurine, in the development of the retina of the eye. As a result of these findings, taurine is added to human infant formulas, resulting in the prevention of blindness. 
  • Many of the drugs that are proving to be effective in combating AIDS were tested in nonhuman primates. Many other potential drugs were proven to be ineffective in primates, sparing humans from clinical trials with ineffective drugs.
  • Doctors would have no chemotherapy to save the 70 percent of children who now survive acute lymphocytic leukemia.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people disabled by strokes or by head or spinal cord injuries would not benefit from rehabilitation techniques.
  • The more than 100,000 people with arthritis who each year receive hip replacements would walk only with great pain and difficulty or be confined to wheelchairs.
  • The 7,500 newborns who contract jaundice each year would develop cerebral palsy, now preventable through phototherapy.
  • There would be no kidney dialysis to extend the lives of thousands of patients with end-stage renal disease.
  • Instead of being eradicated, smallpox would continue unchecked and many others would join the two million people killed by the disease.
  • Millions of dogs, cats and other pets and farm animals would have died from anthrax, distemper, canine parvovirus, feline leukemia, rabies, and more than 200 other diseases now preventable because of animal research.
  • Dietary supplements to treat homocystinuria, a condition that can lead to atherosclerosis, were developed in research with monkeys.

* Several examples are from Americans for Medical Progress

Benefits that Primate Research at Texas Biomed Has Provided to Humanity

  • High-Frequency Ventilator
    Studies with premature baboons enabled researchers to refine the technique of high-frequency oscillatory ventilation, which is used to save the lives of thousands of premature babies and minimize lung damage in these children.
  • Surfactant
    Basic physiological research with premature baboons advanced the development of a natural product called surfactant to prevent lung damage complications in premature newborn babies. Surfactant is now given to all premature infants as an aerosol.
  • Bone Healing
    Research with baboons and chimpanzees established that a mixture of specific proteins and a matrix material can dramatically hasten the restructuring of bone after surgery or accidental breakage. It is expected that this product will soon become widely used and that it will greatly reduce recovery time after bone breakage or surgery.
  • Hepatitis B Vaccine
    Much of the work involved in developing a hepatitis B vaccine was done with chimpanzees at Texas Biomed. Safety and efficacy testing of the first hepatitis B vaccine also was done at the Institute. An improved, safer vaccine has since been developed, and its efficacy also was established in research with chimpanzees at Texas Biomed.
Baby Baboon

Why are Primates so critical to life-saving research?

  • Genetic and Physiological Similarities
    Primates are genetically and physiologically more similar to humans than are other animal species. Use of nonhuman primate models allows investigation of complex physiological characteristics that are shared only by humans and other primates.
  • Infectious Disease Susceptibility Similarities
    Only humans and other primates are susceptible to many of the infectious diseases that threaten human populations. For example, the chimpanzee is the only animal besides man that is susceptible to infection with hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses. Unlike humans, however, chimpanzees do not develop liver disease from these infections. This characteristic makes chimpanzees a valuable model for hepatitis research. In fact, work with chimpanzees at Texas Biomed was instrumental in the development of a successful vaccine for hepatitis B, which is now given to school-age children.
  • Similarities in Chronic Disease Profiles
    Primates more closely resemble humans than any other animal model in manifestations of the chronic diseases that are the major public health problems in the United States today. For example, nonhuman primates have naturally occurring atherosclerosis, osteoporosis and hypertension, making them ideal animal models for these conditions.
  • Ability to Control Matings
    The ability to control breeding of nonhuman primates allows experimental testing of specific genetic hypotheses that is not possible in human populations.
  • Ability to Control Environment
    Primates can be maintained in a similar environment throughout life. The ability to control and maintain environmental factors facilitates many experimental evaluations not possible in human populations.
Need for nonhuman primate research

Nonhuman primate research has led to major medical breakthroughs in the treatment and prevention of diseases in both humans and animals.