Are Primates Still Important for Medical Progress? The Answer: Yes

Opponents to animal research always ask, “Is research with primates still needed?”  According to Dr. Andrew Jackson of Britain’s Newcastle University’s Institute of Neuroscience in a recent BBC Science & Environment article, primates are still vital for medical research, especially for studies with the brain.

Dr. Jackson has been recently researching the relationship between motion and the brain with rhesus macaque monkeys and a specially designed videogame. The monkeys play the game and when they win, they receive fruit as a reward. All the while, Dr. Jackson studies the monitors to see how neurons react to create the primates’ movement.  He explains that this research could help find ways to restore mobility to people who have suffering from paralysis.  Why a monkey? The research is performed with monkeys, rather than mice because the physiology of a monkey’s brain is much more similar to that of a human.  In addition, mice do not manipulate objects with their front paws like monkeys and people do with their hands.

In the article, an international animal rights group claims that primate research is unnecessary because of the existence of brain neural imaging and computer models, whose data is based of off previous animal studies. As the article notes, soon after publishing arguments in opposition to Dr. Jackson’s study, over six hundred scientists who are actively involved in animal research signed an open letter rejecting those claims.
Those scientists explain that nonhuman primates are very important for medical development and great lengths are taken to ensure their safety and comfort.  Labs come with elaborate enclosures, social groups, and more secluded areas to allow primates to have some time to themselves.  Dr. Jackson concurs that the wellbeing of the animals is very important for the experiments noting that stressed or uncomfortable animals can skew data and make it impossible to perform research.

To read the article, please click here. If you’d like to learn more about the importance of primates in research, please see the resources located on NABR’s website.