The Critical Role of Nonhuman Primates in Medical Research
A research monkey with a ball

A newly released white paper, The Critical Role of Nonhuman Primates in Medical Research , outlines the importance of research involving nonhuman primates (NHP).1 Experts from the American Physiological Society (APS) contributed to this report, as did experts from other scientific societies.2

We can learn a great deal from research with species such as fruit flies, zebrafish, and rodents. However, the immune system, metabolism, and brain structures of NHPs much more closely resemble those of humans. Research with NHPs is subject to a high level of regulatory scrutiny including the requirement that scientists may only study them if no other species will suffice to answer a scientific question.

Promising areas of research involving nonhuman primates:

  • Treating glioblastoma with a modified version of the polio virus to help the body’s immune system mobilize against this deadly brain cancer.
  • Using antibodies—molecules that are part of the immune system—to prevent HIV-positive mothers from transmitting this virus to their babies.
  • Boosting the effectiveness of treatments for HIV and chronic hepatitis B with a combination of drugs to stimulate the immune system.
  • Understanding how the Zika virus can infect a fetus and the mother’s placenta to prevent this from happening.3
  • Coaxing the immune system of patients to tolerate organ transplants without the need for drugs that suppress all of the body’s immune defenses.
  • Mapping how the brain works to find better ways to treat diseases including Parkinson’s, other movement disorders, Alzheimer’s, alcoholism, drug addiction, bipolar disorder, and autism.
  • Developing technology to enable paralyzed individuals to control a prosthetic arm through a brain-machine interface.
  • Understanding why blood pressure rises as we age and more about one inherited form of hypertension to reduce heart disease, kidney damage, memory problems, and more.
  • Finding safe and effective treatments to address obesity and diabetes.

  1. Most NHP research in the U.S. involves monkeys such as macaques, squirrel monkeys, and African green monkeys. Some of the research also involves other species such as baboons and marmosets.
  2. In addition to the APS, experts from the American Academy of Neurology, American Transplant Foundation, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, Society for Neuroscience, American Society for Microbiology, American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the Endocrine Society, and the Foundation for Biomedical Research contributed to the development of this report.
  3. Zika can cause severe birth defects such as microcephaly in the babies of pregnant women who contract the disease. It can also cause stillbirths and miscarriages.
a macaque at a research facility with a ball

The Critical Role of Nonhuman Primates in Medical Research

A white paper outlining the importance of research involving nonhuman primates. (PDF)