December 15, 2020

Research with animals is crucial to improving human and animal health. Animals in research provide unique insights not available with other scientific models, and they help scientists determine safety and effectiveness of preventions, treatments and cures. During the COVID-19 pandemic, animals in research have been especially important in accelerating the development COVID-19 vaccines as well as better diagnostics and additional treatment options.

At the NPRCs, we’re helping fill a critical role in halting COVID-19 by leading NIH-funded studies at our centers. We’re also participating in the public-private partnership ACTIV (Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines) to develop treatments and vaccines by sharing our knowledge, resources and animals, including conducting preclinical studies with NPRC monkeys for some of the leading industry vaccine candidates.

Scientific collaboration is especially important during a pandemic when time is of the essence and, in this case, animal resources are limited. At the onset of the pandemic, monkey importation was halted, putting increasing demands on the NPRC animal colonies, which were already limited in quantity and availability. The NPRCs account for only 1 in every 5 nonhuman primates (NHPs) used in U.S.-based research, so the limited supply at a time of high demand impacts NPRC COVID-related studies as well as pre-pandemic studies under way at the NPRCs and those in planning stages.

The NPRCs remain dedicated to our other areas of study, including research into HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, the neurosciences, cardiovascular and respiratory health, genetics and transplant medicine. 

We are also committed to meeting the future needs of animals for NIH-funded research. This is why the NPRCs support establishing a strategic reserve of NHPs to be used in times of national health crises. We are already growing our on-site breeding colonies when time, space and funding permit, strategically assigning animals to research protocols, harmonizing across centers for efficient use of animals and increasing rigor and reproducibility to facilitate collaboration and consistency across research labs. These strategic steps now further position the NPRCs for the translation of our research advancements from cell and animal models to humans, and are indicative of our commitment to help people across generations and the world live longer, healthier lives. 

To learn more about the NPRCs’ ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19, visit this page.

Editor’s Note, 2/22/21: The New York Times covered the research monkey shortage in today’s issue. Read the story here.

November 6, 2020

It’s been 25 years since University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist James Thomson, VMD, PhD, was the first in the world to isolate and culture primate embryonic stem cells. He accomplished this breakthrough with nonhuman primates (NHPs) at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (NPRC) in 1995, using rhesus monkey cells, and again in 1996 with marmoset cells. Thomson then published his world-changing breakthrough on human embryonic stem cell derivation in Science Nov. 6, 1998.

From these early discoveries, stem cell research has advanced to human clinical trials for treating both age-related and juvenile macular degeneration, heart disease, blood and immune system cancers, skin wounds, hearing disorders, spinal cord injury, graft-versus-host disease and more. Just as Thomson predicted in the 1990s, NHPs, which were instrumental to basic stem cell research 25 years ago, are now in demand for a wealth of preclinical studies necessary before human clinical trials can begin.

Thanks to advances in pluripotent stem cell research and also gene-editing, researchers are also making progress in understanding the underlying causes of Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, pregnancy disorders, sickle-cell anemia, autoimmune diseases, cartilage regeneration and much more. Universities and medical institutions today have well-established stem cell and regenerative medicine centers to help bring researchers and resources together to advance the field and educate the next generation of stem cell scientists, doctors, educators, business people and policy makers.

The main uses of stem cells today include basic research to understand the human body, discovering the genetic origins of disease, growing new cells and tissues for transplant medicine, and growing cells and tissues for testing pharmaceuticals in the lab before animal and human trials begin. Stem cell research is helping animals, too. Pets as well as research animals at the NPRCs naturally get cancer, diabetes, arthritis and other diseases that stem cell therapies may be able to treat.

It’s important to make sure therapies are based on well-designed and thorough clinical trials. The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently cracked down on a number of rogue stem cell clinics that have offered untested, unapproved and even potentially dangerous medical interventions. Only a licensed physician with a patient under his or her direct care should recommend any stem cell therapy or other medical treatment.

Thanks to stem cell research breakthroughs pioneered at the NPRCs – and advanced by many researchers and doctors who have joined the field since – we are finally unraveling the mysteries of cell biology from early development through aging as never before. Read more here.

September 28, 2020

The seven National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) are participating in SciFest All Access 2020. This is the virtual answer to the postponed USA Science & Engineering Festival, which is recognized as the nation’s top science and engineering festival for K-12 students, college students, educators and families. Happening now through Oct. 3, registered participants can visit the NPRCs in the “Exhibit Portal, Health & Medicine Zone II.”

The NPRC booth includes links to NPRC.org, our collective website, as well as individual web pages for the seven centers. All pages are filled with educational resources and links to help you learn more about our research, the scientific advancements we’re making and the care we provide our research animals. Direct access links to these seven pages are provided below.

NPRC representatives will be “on site” at SciFest All Access answering questions registered participants submit via the “Ask a Question” link in the booth. We’re also answering questions participants email us at nprcoutreach@gmail.com.

You can learn even more about the NPRCs’ research to improve human and animal health by visiting NPRC.org and following us on Twitter at @NPRCnews.

We look forward to joining thousands of students, educators and families at this year’s SciFest All Access!

SciFest All Access NPRC Web Pages

California NPRC

Oregon NPRC

Southwest NPRC

Tulane NPRC

Washington NPRC

Wisconsin NPRC

Yerkes NPRC

September 8, 2020

The Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WiNPRC) has launched the newly improved Primate Info Net (PIN). The website provides resources for anyone interested in nonhuman primates.

Some of PIN’s most prominent features include primates in the news, educational resources, such as the always popular primate species fact sheets, informational services and research resources. Whether looking for a few nonhuman primate facts or more detailed information, PIN can provide the guidance you need.

Other features on the improved site include Ask Primate and the Career Center. Ask Primate allows anyone to inquire about any primate or primatology topic. The Career Center facilitates exploration of jobs and volunteer opportunities in primatology, as well as career guidance from scientists.

“We hope the relaunch of PIN will make learning about primates an enjoyable and informative experience,” says Jordana Lenon, Senior Editor, at WiNPRC. “We encourage you to explore the new PIN and to contact us with any questions about this updated resource. We hope you’re as excited as we are about PIN’s return!”

April 19, 2019

Forty years ago today, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned commercially manufactured polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), acting on evidence of their extreme environmental persistence and toxicity.

Five years before the April 19, 1979, ban, New Scientist published “US losing fight against PCBs – a new cancer risk?”, referencing its 1973 article by Allen and Norback (Vol. 57, p. 289) about changes in nonhuman primates at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center exposed to PCBs.

“As far as the monkeys are concerned, the potential of PCB carcinogenicity is there,” senior author James Allen of the center’s experimental pathology unit stated in the article.

These early research findings were also described in the Summer 1973 issue of Primate Record, the Wisconsin center’s newsletter at the time. The narrative describes how three months of exposure to PCBs at 300 parts per million (ppm) in the animals’ diets resulted in liver enlargement, facial swelling, hair loss and gastritis of the type associated with cancer.

By that time, industrial accidents had at least twice contaminated human food supplies with up to 3,000 parts per million of PCBs. Levels of 28 ppm in milk and 35 ppm in certain fish had also been reported. In previous PCB studies with rats, liver enlargement was the only major reaction.

Quoting Allen, the final paragraph of the newsletter reads, “The discrepancy in clinical findings between the rat and monkey subjects in PCB tests again points to the inadequacy of testing drugs and chemicals only on organisms distantly related to man before certifying them as safe for humans…”

In 1975, the EPA cited the Wisconsin Primate Center team’s findings at its National Conference on Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Chicago. And in 1978, a paper by James Allen et al, published in Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, fully described the toxic effects of PCBs on nonhuman primate health and pregnancy.

While no single study led to the landmark ban, several peer-reviewed studies like the monkey study contributed to the building body of evidence that PCBs cause cancer and other serious health problems. Today, these harmful chemicals are no longer produced in the United States.

Pictured above are PCB cleanup operations on Wisconsin’s Fox River circa 1989.

Photo credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

January 7, 2019

In August 2018, Texas Biomedical Research Institute President and CEO Larry Schlesinger, MD named Deepak Kaushal, PhD, the new Director of the Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC).

Dr. Kaushal joined SNPRC in January 2019, succeeding the retiring Robert Lanford, PhD As Director of SNPRC, Dr. Kaushal will be responsible for leading a national scientific resource funded by a $40 million National Institutes of Health grant and a team of nearly 150 scientists, veterinarians and animal care professionals.

Dr. Kaushal joins SNPRC after his tenure as Director of the Center for Tuberculosis Research within the Tulane National Primate Research Center (TNPRC) in Covington, La., and Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.

“We are excited Dr. Kaushal will be joining the Texas Biomed and SNPRC team,” Dr. Schlesinger said. “He is a world-renowned researcher whose focus in tuberculosis and HIV, specifically using nonhuman primates in TB research, is a natural fit with the Institute’s long-term vision of becoming the world leader in infectious disease research.”

Dr. Kaushal brings more than 25 years of experience working to eradicate tuberculosis, which kills more than two million people worldwide each year. Using the macaque nonhuman primate model, Dr. Kaushal’s lab tests new vaccine candidates and new drugs against the disease. A major focus of his research is to study the synergy between TB and HIV-AIDS.

“The opportunity to work in San Antonio is tremendous,” Dr. Kaushal said. “The community has a strong health science center and medical school, a network of higher education that fuels the engine of a research enterprise, strong non-profit organizations such as the Southwest Research Institute and is a vibrant, multicultural city. This is a place where technology, industry and supported research in infectious diseases can grow.”

A Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supported researcher, Dr. Kaushal brings a portfolio of about $25 million in grant funding to SNPRC and Texas Biomed. He has authored more than 94 journal publications that have been published, are in press, in review or in revision and has presented at more than 66 scientific conferences worldwide.

He holds a PhD in biochemistry and microbiology from the University of Delhi in India and is a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Collaboration for TB Vaccine Discovery (CTVD), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation working group on Nonhuman Primate Models and the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG).

November 6, 2018

November 6, 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the seminal paper “Embryonic stem cell lines derived from human blastocysts,” published in Science. The paper documented a breakthrough that occurred when University of Wisconsin-Madison and WiNPRC scientist James Thomson, VMD, PhD, developed a technique to successfully isolate and culture human embryonic stem cells from patient-donated, lab-fertilized embryos.

Thomson was successful again in 2007 when he became the first to grow induced pluripotent stem cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells behave similarly to embryonic stem cells with their source being genetically reprogrammed mature cells, such as skin cells. Thomson derived this type of cell with WiNPRC scientist Junying Yu, publishing again in Science.

Scientists predicted both of these cell types could someday be useful for drug discovery and transplant medicine. Today, those predictions are coming true.

Embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells can become virtually any cell in the body. Scientists and doctors study these cells and their derivatives to learn more about basic biology and genetic origins of disease. They also use them for cell, tissue and organ transplant studies, as well as for pharmaceutical testing and studying the effects of environmental toxins on human cells and tissues.

Both types of stem cells, which Thomson and other NPRC scientists advanced from rodents to nonhuman primates and then to humans in the 1990s, are already in early clinical trials for macular degeneration, spinal cord injury, heart disease, ALS and more. There are currently 27 clinical trials around the world involving embryonic stem cells and their derivatives. Another 42 trials involve the use of induced pluripotent stem cells.

These discoveries underscore the importance of basic science and are excellent examples of how basic science can lead to applied science, clinical trials, entrepreneurship and expanding business and industry. Globally, the market for products related to stem cell discoveries is projected to reach more than $270.5 billion by 2025, according to a 2017 Transparency Market Research report.

A whole new era of science and medicine sprung from those early 1990s discoveries with nonhuman primates. The NPRCs continue to advance research in both human and nonhuman primates involving embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, tissue-specific (adult) stem cells and gene editing of both stem cells and mature cells. We look forward to the cell and regenerative medicine discoveries that are still to come!

 

August 30, 2018

Dr. Nancy Haigwood, director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center, discusses the launch of nprc.org, the public-facing website of the seven National Primate Research Centers, in this podcast from Oregon Health and Science University. The website’s goal, she says, is to give the general public information about research at the NPRCs that is “helping humans live longer, healthier lives.”

July 2, 2018

Researchers from the seven National Primate Research Centers have joined six Nobel Laureates and a growing contingent of America’s scientific community in signing a letter that acknowledges the importance of animal research as well as transparency. The letter calls upon “our country’s research institutions – large and small – to embrace openness. We should proudly explain how animals are used for the advancement of science and medicine, in the interest of the health and wellbeing of humans and animals.

“We fully support the goal of helping the public understand and trust the research process,” says John Morrison, PhD, director of the California National Primate Research Center. “All seven NPRCs engage in community and educational outreach to provide information about our research as well as the care of our animals.”

USA Today printed the letter and signatures June 20.

 

Top 10 Research Accomplishments at the NPRCs

The National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) have played a crucial role in some of the most important medical breakthroughs of the past 50 years. NPRC research with nonhuman primates (NHPs) is highly regulated, provides unique insights not available with other models and often precedes clinical trials in humans. This list highlights 10 of the most significant, recent NHP research breakthroughs that are helping people across generations and the world live longer, healthier lives.

  1. Zika – When Zika was identified in Brazil in 2015 and associated with severe birth defects, the infectious disease expertise of NPRC researchers was at the forefront of the scientific community’s response and early understanding of the disease’s pathology. Researchers are also working to:
    • identify antiviral drugs that are effective against Zika in lab cultures and then test these drugs in NHPs; and
    • determine if and how Zika infection in pregnant animals results in defects of the fetal central nervous system.
  2. Ebola – One of the most potent viruses to infect humans, Ebola is the subject of intense study by researchers at the NPRCs and around the world with the goal of developing preventive vaccines and novel therapies. The disease course in macaques and marmosets is very similar to that in humans, and many vaccines and therapies have been tested in these animals, some of which have advanced to human trials.
  3. HIV/AIDS – The emergence of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s was one of the greatest public health crises in American history, and NPRC researchers were crucial in the effort to address it. Results from NHP studies on the ability of pre-exposure dosing of antiretroviral medicines to prevent infection with SIV or SHIV (the primate versions of HIV) informed the design of subsequent human clinical trials that provided clear evidence such pre-exposure dosing was effective in preventing infection.
  4. Hepatitis – Hepatitis C virus (HCV) affects more than 3.5 million people in the U.S. and more than 170 million people worldwide. Chronic HCV infection frequently progresses to cirrhosis and liver cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of only 10%.  Intensive research efforts involving NHPs have resulted in a cure for HCV infection.
  5. Parkinson’s disease – Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that produces motor symptoms, such as tremor, walking difficulty and muscle stiffness, as well as many non-motor problems. NHP research led to an innovative surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation (DBS), which uses an implanted, battery-operated device to deliver electrical stimulation to specific brain areas that control movement. This blocks the abnormal nerve signals that cause the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. NHP research also contributed to the development of autologous stem cells as a potential therapy for Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. In 2007, researchers transformed skin cells from humans and monkeys into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, and subsequently transformed the monkey iPS cells into dopamine neurons. Because transplanted neurons are able to differentiate into multiple different neural cell types and provide long-term increases in dopamine-producing neurons, such cells can be used to partially restore motor function in people who have Parkinson’s disease.
  6. Brain-machine interfaces – This therapy combines neural recordings, computer representations of movement and robotics to allow monkeys and humans to manipulate their environments without the use of their arms. This research, which is dependent on NHPs, holds great promise for people who are paralyzed or who have suffered brain damage from stroke. Researchers have developed a brain-machine interface that enables monkeys to control robot arms with brain activity coded through a computer.
  7. Huntington’s disease – Although the genetic defect responsible for this neurodegenerative disease is well known, the specific mechanisms by which the mutation induces the condition are not as well understood. NPRC researchers have developed a transgenic NHP model of Huntington’s disease by introducing a portion of the mutant human gene responsible for Huntington’s into fertilized macaque eggs. The result is transgenic animals that reproduce many of the key features of Huntington’s disease.
  8. Stem cell research – This pioneering discovery, which NPRC scientists advanced from rodents to NHPs and then into humans in the 1990s, is already in early human clinical trials for macular degeneration, spinal cord injury, heart disease, ALS and more. There are approx. 30 clinical trials around the world involving embryonic stem cells and their derivatives. At least 40 trials involve the use of induced pluripotent stem cells. Pluripotent stem cell research has ushered in a new era of science and medicine that is dramatically expanding our options for pursuing cures and treatments.
  9. Transplantation – NPRC researchers have developed a novel approach to suppressing immune responses to kidney transplants. The technique involves creating a fusion protein of a molecule that is involved in the stimulation of T cells, which sometimes reject transplanted tissue. This research paved the way for successful human clinical trials and FDA approval of belatacept, the first new transplant drug since 1999.
  10. Mitochondrial disease – No treatment or preventive measures exist for this group of devastating human disorders, which present shortly after birth and can affect multiple organ systems to cause diabetes, deafness, blindness, dementia or epilepsy. Mitochondrial replacement therapy, or correcting dysfunctional mitochondria in the egg of a woman who previously delivered a child with mitochondrial disease, offers her the chance to have a typically developing child. NPRC researchers were the first to establish this process in NHPs by demonstrating the feasibility of replacing mitochondrial DNA in an egg with donor mitochondria from another egg, followed by in vitro fertilization and the development of typically developing offspring.

 

Updated August 2019

Photo credit: Wisconsin National Primate Research Center

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