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What Do We Need to Know About Experiments on Non Human Primates?

Non human primates (NHPs) are close relatives of human beings. They are regarded as crucial experimental animals because of many similarities with human beings in morphology and function, which can be applied in the study of brain function, blood circulation, blood type, respiratory physiology, endocrine, reproductive physiology, neurophysiology, behavior and gerontology. Non human primate plays an indispensable role in leading and supporting life science research, biotechnology innovation and the development of the biomedical industry, whose research significance has been widely valued by all countries in the world.


Ethical issues of NHP research

The ethical issues of NHP research are similar to those of general animal research. The difference lies in the special nature of NHPs that they have cognitive and emotional abilities, including calculation, memory and problem-solving skills. Monkeys are conscious and self-aware, and are able to experience depression, anxiety and joy. Some can even learn languages. Strong evidence shows that great apes, like chimpanzees, have complex mental abilities similar to humans, such as self-awareness and insight into their own thoughts and feelings, a sense of time and purpose, the capability to reflect on the past and thinking about the future, the ability to share thoughts and feelings with other members, and the ability to communicate thoughts and feelings with symbols (language ability). However, these characteristics also make them extremely sensitive to the pain they suffer, which means that imprisoning them in the laboratory for repeated researches makes them feel extremely painful both physically and spiritually.


Different voices

People in different organizations have different attitudes towards the use of non-human primates for research. In the scientific community, many scientists believe that due to the close relationship with humans, non-human primates are the best animal models. In certain biomedical and biological research when there are no alternatives, the proper use of non-human primates is indispensable in order to evaluate the safety of drugs. However, according to animal protection organizations, monkeys can feel the same pain as humans. As they can neither agree to be tested, nor can they benefit from the research themselves, therefore, using NHP for experiments is not ethical and should be banned or phased out as soon as possible.


Significance of NHP experiments


  1. NHP Disease models

Animal experiment, as an important stage of drug pre-clinical research and development of new drugs, is the basis of evaluation. The accuracy and reliability of pre-clinical research results are crucial to the success of drug development and reduce clinical risks. Therefore, disease models and analytical techniques are the intermediate link of drug research and transformation, which connects laboratory and clinical. Disease models, high-quality safety evaluation animal resources, comparative medical technology resources, etc., are necessary conditions for drug research and development, pharmacology, toxicity, efficacy, safety and other evaluation and achievement transformation. In particular, in neurophysiology, NHPs can be trained to respond to external stimuli to help understand how human brain works and explore cognitive, motor and mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and depression.


  1. Other biological substances of NHPs

They are applicable for research, diagnostic, or manufacturing purposes, which are generally obtained from the monkey resources, such as rhesus monkey, Africa Green monkey, baboon, capuchin monkey, chimpanzee, squirrel monkey.

NHP Blood sample: serum, plasma, whole blood

NHP Primary cells: PBMCs, Cd3+ Pan T cells, adipocytes, cardiomyocytes, endothelial cells

NHP Tissues: heart, parotid, ovary, tonsil, trachea, brain, etc.

NHP Body Fluid: bone marrow, bile, breast milk, urine, amniotic fluid, etc.


As non-human primates are commonly used laboratory animals in biomedical research, the global community has established many resource centers. The NIH funds the development of NHP human disease models, provides infrastructure and expertise, and promotes the application of NHP in various fields of biomedical research and the improvement of animal welfare. There are 8 national NHP centers in the United States, as well as many laboratory bases, with abundant monkey resources.


California National Primate Research Center

Oregon National Primate Research Center

Southwest National Primate Research Center

Tulane National Primate Research Center

Washington National Primate Research Center

Wisconsin National Primate Research Center

Yerkes National Primate Research Center


Taking into account the public concerns about the use of NHPs in research, relevant organizations should regulate the process, giving special consideration of NHP’s residence and their social/behavior requirements. NHP species classified as endangered should not be used, and the source of animals should be social breeding instead of wild capturing. Monkeys must be obtained from reputable suppliers in accordance with all local, federal and international regulations.

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