Washington Update

NASEM Issues New Report on Nonhuman Primate Research

By: Naomi Charalambakis
Wednesday, May 10, 2023
On May 4, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) published a report that examines the current and future roles of nonhuman primates (NHPs) in research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The report, “Nonhuman Primate Models in Biomedical Research: State of the Science and Future Needs,” also explores opportunities for nonanimal models to complement or reduce reliance on NHPs in ways that ensure research remains rigorous and translatable to humans. 

The report includes 24 conclusions across four different chapters:
  • Contributions of NHP models to advances in human health
  • Current use and availability of NHPs
  • Landscape of new approach methodologies
  • Future needs and opportunities for NHPs
To inform their conclusions, the committee used the 2018 report from NIH Office of Research Infrastructure Programs, which first detailed the NHP supply chain challenges. For example, this report concluded, “based on several lines of evidence, increased demand for both rhesus macaques and marmosets is expected in the coming 5 years.” This conclusion emerged before the COVID-19 pandemic that exacerbated the demand for NHPs for vaccine development. Yet, many of the recommendations outlined in the 2018 report remain unfulfilled, as noted in the new NASEM report.

Given the vital role of NHP research in countless research areas—infectious disease, neuroscience, reproductive biology, etc.—the new report emphasizes the urgent need for a national, comprehensive strategy to ensure NHP availability. Geopolitical tensions, recent transportation challenges, and skyrocketing costs of animals severely impair NIH researchers from continuing their work at a competitive pace. Therefore, rather than depend on imported NHPs from countries such as Cambodia, Mauritius, and Thailand, the NASEM committee urged prioritization of expanding domestic NHP breeding programs. This includes support for the National Primate Research Centers which have experienced a decline in funding over the last decade.
While nonanimal models show promising opportunities for research, the report underscores that these models cannot yet replace NHP models involving multiorgan systems and integrated biology. To achieve the eventual goal of reducing reliance on NHPs in scientific studies, the committee encourages greater investment in collaborative research between NHP researchers and those developing nonanimal models. By facilitating these interactions, research studies can be better informed about the evolving capabilities of new technologies and, therefore, more rigorously designed and reproducible.

To learn more about the new report, view the NASEM report release webinar here. FASEB’s factsheet on the advantages and disadvantages of nonanimal models is available here.