Washington Update

NASEM Nonhuman Primate Committee Convenes Sixth Public Meeting

By: Naomi Charalambakis
Friday, December 9, 2022
On November 21, the National Academies Committee on the State of the Science and Future Needs for Nonhuman Primate Model Systems convened its sixth public meeting. The committee, responsible for examining the current landscape of nonhuman primate research funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH) and evaluating ways to reduce reliance on nonhuman primates, focused the meeting on engaging with NIH representatives and other researchers about ongoing research opportunities and challenges.

Franziska Grieder, DVM, PhD, Director of NIH Office of Research Infrastructure and Programs (ORIP) provided an update on ORIP’s efforts to support nonhuman primate research since the release of its 2018 two-part report, “Nonhuman Primate Evaluation and Analysis,” which evaluated the supply and demand for nonhuman primates in biomedical research. While the findings are now four years old, Grieder explained that much of the report’s key themes are still applicable, particularly given the constraints introduced by the pandemic. Demand for nonhuman primates is especially high and fast moving, as requests for specific pathogen-free animals are increasing. To help address these needs, ORIP has increased funding for the National Primate Research Centers—a national network of seven centers across the U.S. conducting nonhuman primate research—by 13 percent (note: not inflation-adjusted). Grieder emphasized that long-term funding and enhanced communication between all stakeholders remain essential for advancing nonhuman primate research.

Representatives from several NIH Institutes and Centers joined the meeting to share how and why nonhuman primates are central to various discipline-specific research. The National Institute for Child Health and Human Development explained that nonhuman primates are critical for brain development, infectious disease, and therapeutic research. For example, Fragile X Syndrome—a genetic condition that causes a broad range of developmental disabilities—can only be accurately studied in nonhuman primates; results from rodents do not translate well in humans. In another example, the National Eye Institute emphasized that nonhuman primates are needed to study retinal diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration because these animals, unlike rodents, have a fovea, the specialized region of the retina that provides the sharpest visual acuity. In all cases, NIH representatives noted that nonhuman primates comprise a very small portion of all research studies yet remain indispensable for furthering each office’s research priorities.

The final portion of the meeting involved presentations and discussions with researchers working on new approach methodologies, techniques that do not rely on animals. Discussions specifically concentrated on potential opportunities for complementing current nonhuman primate research with nonanimal methods. Each speaker underscored that while nonanimal methods provide important initial data, nonhuman primates offer insight not available from such techniques or even small animals. To enable safe and effective treatments, particularly in infectious disease and drug development research, speakers stressed the importance of continued support for nonhuman primate research.