Use of non-human primates in experiments

Some 10,000 non-human primates are currently used as experimental animals only in the European Union. Despite the great ethical dilemma of using them and they have begun using alternative methods, experts insist they are still needed.

Iribar Andrea Lopez and Maria Martinez Del Barrio Fuencisla
second cycle students
Veterinary Faculty, Campus de Lugo
University of Santiago de Compostela
This work was supervised by Cristina Castillo, Faculty of Veterinary Campus Lugo (USC)
assigned by Images authors

Currently, about 12 million animals are used for scientific purposes each year in the European Union, of these, 10,000 are non-human primates (NHP). Although it is known that the use of primates as experimental animals is declining due to ethical and moral dilemma that generates and implementation of alternative methods, experts insist that their use remains necessary. Indeed, there are many reasons for the use of PNH in experimentation but, undoubtedly, the principal is based on similarities to physiological, biological and evolutionary level with respect to humans. There are also many advances in psychology, physiology or medicine, which would not have been possible without these investigations.

The most frequent laboratory are Rhesus monkeys ( Macaca mulatta ), which will be the name of the Rh factor, and cynomolgus monkey ( Macaca fascicularis ), which was used to determine the effects of lenalidomide, which produced malformations Fetal after administration in pregnant animals.


Mono cynomolgus ( Macaca fascicularis ), a la izquierda, y mono rhesus ( Macaca mulatta ).

In recent years, marmosets ( Callithrix jacchus ) have become the new “rats”. The high genetic heritability demonstrated by recent Japanese study has led to these small apes to become a new pinecone research review¬†model difficult to study neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Alzheimer’s.

Today, primates are only used in animal testing if there are no suitable alternative methods or species. Mainly used in safety testing of pharmaceutical products and devices, but also for basic research in biology and development of products and medical devices.

Nearly all primates used in scientific experiments are descended from animals bred in captivity, sometimes for several generations. Except some cases, research with animals born in captivity usually provide more reliable and accurate than those performed with animals born in the wild and captured data. The latter are used rarely to investigate, but are still required to avoid the negative effects of inbreeding. Still, the debate is. An article published in the journal Nature, in March 2012, echoed the protests raised by various social groups to companies transporting primates for research (Air France, Air Canadian) from Mauritius or Southeast Asia to Europe and the United became States, primary recipients.

And these animals will focus our work. While in recent years have made significant investments to improve housing conditions of captive primates for research, there are still unknowns in their physical and social needs.


Types of stress to which they are subjected PNH captured

Social stress

  • The catch: we speak abruptly displaced animals from their natural environment to another purely scientific.Depending on the characteristics of the species, primate character, the shooting situation and the new environment it is exposed, is frequent occurrence of depressive states and / or aggressive behavior.
  • Isolation: either for reasons of quarantine, ease of use and convenience, affects animals are gregarious. This helps to maintain the state of stress of the animal, appearing stereotyping, and / or self-mutilation.
  • Early weaning: the units that are separated from the mother early, often less adaptable, often showing deficiencies in social behavior, stereotypes and even abnormalities in the endocrine and immune systems and make feasible or not credible any subsequent investigation. But these problems affect not only the young, the mother can reach neglecting future litters, causing them social and behavioral deficits. It is therefore advisable to avoid using this type of animal.

Management and environmental stress

  • Transportation to the destination: it is easy for an ape captured suffer hyperthermia and dizziness while traveling.This is exacerbated if the transport conditions are bad: poor ventilation, overcrowding or reduced in size cages bring a shortage of movements that increase anxiety.
  • The change of power: the primates are animals that spend most of their time in getting food. The administration scheduled thereof (1-2 shots, at certain times) negatively alters their behavior. In these cases, it is recommended to hide food in the passenger or the use of devices that access to food is indirect and requires an expenditure of time.So stereotypical behavior boredom and lack of encouragement would be avoided. Sadly, many laboratories use the deprivation of food and water to get the primate more participatory with the experiment …
  • Noises: when the monkey arrives at the laboratory, all noises to which it is subjected are new to it and can not hide or flee as would be usual in their natural environment. However, the most stressful noises are caused by other apes to be removed from the cages, tested or abnormal vocalizations.
  • Light: sunlight is minimal and basic need that any mammal needs. You can imagine the confusion of an animal accustomed to a natural environment with physiological regulation of the photoperiod, subjected to an environment where the only light source is artificial.
  • Physical activity: laboratory NHP spend much of their time stuck in cages that substantially limit their movement.This unnatural situation, especially in animals with a daily activity, promotes the development of metabolic and musculoskeletal problems.
  • Human contact: this is one of the factors that cause stress and is inevitable. Managing to get them out of their cage, the evidence to which they are subjected, clinical examinations to assess their health status or immobilization methods employed cause great anxiety. The animal then feel absolutely helpless and at the mercy of danger, so his excitement, restlessness and anxiety reach, most likely, the maximum tolerable period. The use of drugs tranquilizers help you cope, without affecting the health of the animal. In this sense, a staff trained and prepared, aware of the needs of these animals, help minimize anxiety and tension present. We believe that should be required of all biomedical research groups conducting courses recognized animal experimentation

In short …

Although its use is declining, that increasingly are being assessed over alternative methods, and the reluctance of society towards this type of research, the fact is that there are still PNH employees in animal studies. Certain processes such as Parkinson’s or strokes require the use of these animals to achieve a cure. Science must accept that reality but must also do everything possible to minimize animal suffering and maintain the necessary welfare conditions thereof.

Despite having entered into force on Royal Decree 53/2013 of February 8, on the protection of animals used for research and other scientific purposes, and that severely regulate these activities, we believe our role as veterinarians is to make a call of attention to this issue and highlight the need for trained personnel and specialized face these needs, which are essential for training courses, both for working with experimental animals and to design research protocols.


Image of Parliament during the vote of Directive 2010/63 / EU in 2010.


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