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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Primates used for medical gains

Polio vaccines, kidney dialysis, chemotherapy and cataract surgeries are a few medical achievements in which animal research has contributed to the improvement in human health. To make such achievements, scientists are working with primates at the Wisconsin Primate Research Center, which is in UW-Madison's graduate school.  




\The campus is unique in that the center works with different schools: the Medical School, Letters and Science, Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture and Life Sciences. We have it all right here, it is remarkable,"" said Joseph Kemnitz, director WPRC. 




The WPRC, one of the eight National Primate Research Centers in the nation, holds claims to discoveries in many areas, including embryonic stem cell research. Other discoveries at the WPRC include: glaucoma therapies, improvements in in-vitro fertilization, better enrichment and veterinary care for captive primates, deeper understanding of primate family dynamics, emotion and how HIV infects a host. 




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The center was established in 1961 through a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Over the years, it has experienced change in locations and renovations. The center just completed a $13 million addition to its building in 2001 and is home to labs, offices and the Primate Center Library. 




""The library is the largest clearinghouse of primate information,"" said Jordana Lenon, senior editor and public information officer. 




The library boasts over 50,000 items and has developed the Primate Info Net, a World Wide Web server that links people with information resources in primatology.  




Most of the research at the WPRC involves marmosets and rhesus monkeys. The main areas of research include: aging and metabolic disease, immunogenetics, virology and reproduction and development. 




The WPRC has the largest colony of captive marmosets in the Midwest, with 300 marmosets, and also houses 1,200 rhesus monkeys. 




Rhesus monkeys come from India, China and other areas of Southwest Asia and live for about 40 years. These monkeys are highly adaptable and thrive in the lab environment. 




Marmosets come from Brazil, and live approximately 14 years. They are used in studies involving fertility, hormones, bone aging and brain function. Marmosets have an interesting family structure because everyone, including the males, helps to care for the infants.  




""Marmosets are useful in studies on reproduction because the dominant female usually has two sets of twins each year,"" Kemnitz said. 




The center is also home to two new species, cynos and vervets.  




The cynos are from facilities in China and Vietnam and are used in studies of infectious diseases and reproduction. Cynos were the first animal used to test the polio vaccine, which has been successful in nearly eradicating the disease. 




The vervets are from a breeding and research facility on St. Kitts in the Caribbean. They are unique because they are immune to SIV, simian immunodeficiency virus, the primate equivalent to HIV.  




However, most of the research in the WPRC centers on the rhesus monkey. 




""Rhesus monkeys are the most common primate experimented on because they are genetically similar to humans,"" Kemnitz said.  




The rhesus monkey has similar neurological, reproductive and immunological systems and is used in studies on AIDS vaccines, reproduction and age-related health issues. They have been in high demand since the 1980s, especially in the area of AIDS research. 




""A big goal of the AIDS research is to develop a vaccine and make it affordable,"" Kemnitz said. 




Besides directing the WPRC, Kemnitz is also a physiology professor and has been studying caloric restriction and aging since 1989. The rhesus monkeys he is using in the study are given a diet that is 30 percent less than a normal nutritionally complete diet.  




This study has found that the calorie-restricted monkeys are actually healthier than the control, the monkey on the normal diet. This provides a model for scientists to study obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions that can be associated with old age. 




The rhesus monkeys are also used in research on women's health, including fertility. 




Researchers at WPRC and Oxford University have been studying endometriosis, which is when the lining of the uterus is found in locations outside the uterus. This reduces fertility and can be debilitating. 




""Using medical records and physical evidence that dates back to the 1960s, we have identified which rhesus monkeys are at risk for the disease and are looking for the genetic cause,"" Kemnitz said.  




Rhesus monkeys outbreed, which means that one female has several male partners. Gene maps are made and can lead scientists to the genetic cause for certain diseases. 




Besides physical illnesses, monkeys also serve as human models in studies of mental diseases. 




Researchers from the psychology and psychiatry departments are also working with the rhesus monkey on gathering imagery data in their studies of emotional development. Animal studies have led to developments in new medications for people suffering from anxiety and other mental illnesses. 




Primates are used in studies because they are more reliable due to their strong similarities to humans. 




""The tests are similar to tests done on humans in clinical situations,"" Kemnitz said. 




Most of the studies performed on the rhesus monkeys and marmosets are not harmful, either physically or psychologically and are noninvasive. This involves blood, urine and tissue samples for hormone levels, blood cell counts and other biomarkers. These tests are built into the monkeys' structured day. 




""Most of the controls are benign controls such as constant room temperature and lights that are on a 12 hour cycle,"" he said. 




The day begins when the lights turn on at 6:00 a.m. and the care staff enters between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. The staff includes four full-time veterinarians and 30 other support staff members whose job it is to take care of the animals. 




Animal care is very important at the research centers. 




""We need good care, without it, the program would not come to anything,"" Kemnitz said. 




Each day, the care staff checks on every monkey and if any are ill or behaving abnormally, the staff reports it to the vet. After the period of observation, the cages and floors are cleaned of waste.  




The monkeys are fed and then used for research projects. The monkeys might have blood drawn or take part in a brain imagery study. 




""The procedures are scheduled in the morning so that the monkeys can be observed following the treatments,"" Kemnitz said. 




Another important part of the day is environmental enrichment, when monkeys play with puzzle feeders and toys. Until the lights go out, time is spent grooming and socializing. 




Kemnitz says that the social environment is very important and that all monkeys have at least one partner. If a monkey is not able to share a cage, the cage will be adjacent to another monkey's. 




The researchers know experimentation on animals is a controversial and emotional issue. However, they believe the benefits derived from it. 




""Many people think it seems unpleasant when monkeys are used in research. We must not lose sight of why we are here, it is to save lives. Antibiotics, allergy medications and chemotherapy were all developed using non-human primate models,"" Lenon said.

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