Clinical research is the cornerstone of today's healthcare system. Nonhuman primates are actively used in the development and testing of various drugs. The issue discussed in the present work is whether the benefits of using monkeys in biomedical research overweigh its costs. The paper includes a brief review of Primate Products, Inc. The products and services provided by the company are described. The pros and cons of using monkeys in research are analyzed. The paper includes a review of possible alternatives to the use of nonhuman primates in medical studies. Personal opinions are provided.
The use of primates in medical research poses a diversity of social, ethical, and medical challenges. Yet, "nonhuman primates remain key animal models for specific types of biomedical research because of their close phylogenetic relationships and physiologic similarities to humans". With the growing scope and complexity of the clinical research enterprise, primates gradually become a convenient object of commercialization. While some firms earn considerable profits supplying nonhuman primates for research, others like Primate Products offer a complete range of services to conserve and care for these species. The use of nonhuman primates in clinical research brings enormous benefits to the society, but it also involves medical, environmental, financial, and ethical costs. Despite the presence of possible alternatives, the medical community will hardly manage to replace nonhuman primates in research in the foreseeable future.
The growing use of nonhuman primates in medical research opens new commercial venues for businesses. The supply of nonhuman primates to medical institutions and related services yield considerable financial and social profits. Primate Products is a good example of a company that positions itself as one of the leading players in protecting and conserving the nonhuman primate species. The company claims that its members and partners have dedicated themselves to serving the needs of nonhuman primates, by managing captive colonies of nonhuman primates. Primate Products, Inc., or PPI, delivers its products and services to hundreds of customers globally. PPI actively cooperates with the American Society of Primatologists, the Animal Transport Association, the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, and the Association of Primate Veterinarians. At the same time, it remains one of the principal providers of primates' biological materials that are to be used in clinical research.
On the surface, Primate Products is the company, which truly cares about the future of nonhuman primates. Among its products are housing systems, enrichment and training devices, aprons, and handling equipment. However, it is also PPI that supplies medical research companies and institutions with the primate biological materials used in research. According to Primate Products, these materials typically include tissue samples, plasma and serum from rhesus macaques and cynomolgus macaques. The company also offers genetic testing services to ensure that companies involved in medical community is aware of the structure of the primate samples they receive from PPI. One can say that PPI can provide any product or service that facilitates the use of nonhuman primates in clinical studies. The only question is whether the use of primates in such activities is socially and ethically justified.
The use of nonhuman primates in research is a matter of hot debates in America. Nevertheless, the number of primates involved in clinical studies constantly increases. Due to their phylogenetic closeness to the human species, nonhuman primates play a key role in advancing the progress of medical research. In 2010 alone, the U.S. housed more than 70,000 nonhuman primates for medical research. These include domestically bred and imported primates. It is interesting to note that nonhuman primates are mostly used for neurology, neuroscience, neuromuscular disease, and pharmacological research. At the same time, where cancer research and preclinical drug testing relies on imported primates, the organizations involved in reproductive, degenerative, and tissue transplantation research prefer domestically bred primates. The business of primate supply to research organizations is well-developed. Companies working in this area tend to believe that the use of primates in biomedical research benefits the society.
The benefits of using primates in medical research have been extensively documented. Apart from opening new opportunities for clinical research, the use of nonhuman primates in clinical research activities is mandatory in the U.S. "Before a new vaccine or drug can go on the market, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires safety testing using animals". For years, monkeys have been used by medical institutions and clinical organizations to develop and test new drugs. Without monkeys, the progress made by the clinical community in treating the most complicated human diseases would have been severely impeded. Gillette confirms that the use of primates was instrumental to the development of all major and minor drugs, including those used to treat polio and typhus. Nonhuman primates are actively used in the study of currently incurable diseases such as AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimer's. This is also why Redmond says that the use of nonhuman primates is critical to promote and sustain progress in biomedical research. Nevertheless, the costs of primate use in clinical studies should not be ignored.
The costs of using primates in biomedical research can be roughly categorized as financial, environmental, social, and ethical. In terms of finances, it is not a secret that the use of primates in clinical research necessitates the provision of abundant financial assistance. Weatheall provides interesting data from the U.K., suggesting that each macaque is priced at almost $30,000, with the costs of maintenance ranging between $300 and $500 per week for each macaque. Organizations must pay around $4,500 to import one cynomolgus macaque. High financial costs force large medical centers into reducing or closing their primate research capacities. For instance, Harvard Medical School announced in 2013 that it would close its New England Primate Research Center due to the lack of financial resources to keep it in operation. The financial costs of primate-based research further translate into numerous social controversies. It is not a secret that animal rights advocates call for a ban on using primates in biomedical research. As more financial resources are diverted from the healthcare system to be invested in clinical research, the society starts to question the validity of the assumption that the use of primates in medical studies is beneficial and valuable. Yet, even though the financial and social costs of research continue to increase, the use of monkeys by medical institutions also shows the signs of growth. This, in turn, raises some environmental and ethical questions.
From the environmental perspective, the use of monkeys in research has the potential to reduce the number of animals living in the natural habitat. As a result, the supply of primates for biomedical research may also decline. Lueck confirms that monkey deficit may become a serious obstacle to meeting the objectives of clinical research in North America. Simultaneously, as more monkey farms open to ensure the continuity of primate supply in the healthcare system, the society's ethical and social concerns will become more pronounced. Human rights activists seek to bring the use of primates in research to a halt. They are determined to stop monkey trade for the sake of protecting the rights of animals and conserving the primate species. A consensus is emerging is that the primates used in research are subject to unbearable tortures and sufferings, which cannot justify the best innovations in medicine. For this reason, the call for developing alternative models of clinical research become much louder.
Numerous alternatives to the use of primates in clinical research have been proposed and discussed. More professionals in medicine and other areas of health promotion suggest that humans themselves can become a perfect model for understanding the complexity of diseases and developing cures. Molecular and cell biology approaches, mouse models for the analysis of incurable diseases, computer modeling and statistical analysis, and non-invasive human studies constitute the basic propositions to replace or at least minimize the use of monkeys in research. Unfortunately, even the best alternative propositions will not bring the desired results. The use of humans in research is subject to severe ethical and legal limitations. Computer simulations and mouse models may not provide the data required to develop effective medicines and treatment strategies for humans. Therefore, the use of primates in biomedical research will hardly face any decline in the foreseeable future.
My opinion is that the use of monkeys in medical studies is surrounded by controversy. On the one hand, I recognize the physical and psychological sufferings experienced by nonhuman primates that are involved in research activities. On the other hand, I am absolutely confident that the medical community in the 21st century does not have any relevant alternatives to the use of primates in studies. Monkeys have become the key driver behind the rapid advancement of medicine. The use of primates in research gives hope to millions of people with presently incurable diseases that they will manage to improve their health and survival. Thus, even though the monkey trade can sometimes be unethical or damaging to the environment, it is the only way to meet the objectives of health promotion and reduce the global burden of disease. At the same time, given the difficulties associated with the use of primates in biomedical research, we should keep looking for better models of clinical analysis.
To conclude, the use of nonhuman primates in medical research generates controversial responses. Despite the growing pressure to stop the monkey trade, clinical researchers display the growing commitment to using primates in their professional activities. The society owes much of its health and wellbeing to monkeys: it is due to the extensive use of monkeys in clinical research that safe cures to the most serious diseases have been developed. Simultaneously, the use of primates in research poses a number of financial, ethical, environmental, and social questions. As scientists keep looking for alternative models of biomedical research, primates remain the key drivers behind the rapid advancement of medicine. They will keep serving the health needs of global populations in the foreseeable future.