We are entering a very exciting era indeed of discovery in nonhuman primate (NHP) research, which I will illustrate with a few points.
The emphasis on translational research during Elias Zerhouni’s tenure as director of NIH has certainly stimulated interest in the pathway connecting basic science to human health, not only in the direction of basic to human but also taking information from human clinical work back to animal models and to the bench. NHP research does not represent a wayside in this highway but rather is often an essential vehicle in the process of transferring information from one end of the spectrum to the other.
A second point worth mentioning is that the genome of several NHP species has now been sequenced, with more to come soon. The -omics associated with this are developing very rapidly. The study of genes, proteins, and biochemical reactions in complex primate organisms is enormously exciting at this time.
Being from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, I am personally very excited about the potential application of embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent cells to alleviate human disease. [But] before transplant therapies can be applied in humans, a great deal of work must be done in nonhuman primate models.
Much work also needs to be done in the realm of vaccine development for HIV, flu, and other viral diseases. The HIV vaccine summit last spring pointed to the need to step back from clinical trials and redouble efforts using NHP models, which will, of course, increase the demand on our animal resources.
Finally, the development of informatics and information technology systems now can enable better organization, management, and sharing of data and dissemination of new knowledge from these studies. This is contributing to the overall excitement in the field.
This era must be enabled by careful consideration of several issues and overcoming current obstacles. The identification of appropriate species and the supply of these species need careful attention. Identifying sources of animals of specific species, characterizing these animals in terms of genetics and their backgrounds, and ensuring quality control in terms of viral status are all impor-
tant issues for animal health, human occupational safety, and efficient use of these animals in studies.
Forecasting needs must be done in terms of not only species but also the important characteristics: age and sex. To emphasize the age aspect, in studying diseases of aging and processes of aging in rhesus monkeys, we must keep in mind that it takes 25 to 30 years to grow an aged rhesus monkey. That fact is sometimes lost in discussions of supply-and-demand issues. One cannot make short-term shifts in trajectories in managing the supply of nonhuman primates.
Deliberate action pertaining to identifying needs and careful management of primate resources along these lines constitutes refinement, in itself, and will enable achievement of research goals with fewer animals in the long run. It will also lead to financial economy in this endeavor.
Given the globalization of the effort in primate research, and the practicalities of the work, such as transportation of animals and biological materials, it is increasingly important that we consider local, national, and international policies and politics. The next presentations will address many of these points.