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 24, 2020

Talking about animals in research may not be part of everyday conversations – unless you work in research, are learning more about it or want to stop it. But if everyone knew how critical animals have been in 2020 to fast-track a safe and effective COVID-19 (coronavirus) vaccine, would that change?

Earlier this year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) called upon the National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) – as NIH has for HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika and other infectious disease threats – to identify animal species for studying the SARS-CoV-2 virus and developing safe and effective vaccines to block it.

The NPRCs went to work and within a few months had discovered how valuable nonhuman primate models (NHPs), especially macaques, are for studying SARS-CoV-2. The NPRCs found the virus infects rhesus, pigtail and cynomolgus macaques, so these animals were included in research programs that resulted in several vaccine candidates in the pipeline by summer’s end. In addition, other key models for SARS-CoV-2, such as mice and hamsters, contributed to the broadening knowledge of how best to tackle the disease in humans. This rapid pace of discovery was possible due to the NPRC researchers applying their expertise fighting other viruses, especially HIV/AIDS.

As with those other viruses, the NPRC researchers closely studied SARS-CoV-2 transmission routes and pathogenesis – this time focusing on the respiratory virus’ activity in the lungs and its impact on cells, tissues and organs. The researchers also conducted detailed genetic studies on the virus to help pharmaceutical researchers use pieces of the virus’ genetic code to fashion vaccine candidates and test them for safety and effectiveness in macaques.

Translating the biomedical research findings into the human population requires going from up to a few dozen monkeys in research to thousands of human volunteers in clinical trials; for COVID-19, more than 200,000 volunteers have enrolled in four promising clinical trials. As announced in November 2020, the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines tested on rhesus macaques were more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 in widespread (Phase 3) human clinical trials and are now on track for emergency FDA approval.

Research with animals connects these vaccines with other SARS-CoV-2 scientific advancements just as it has made connections among NPRC HIV/AIDS studies, the results from which facilitated the rapid pace to COVID-19 discoveries. Improving human and animal health – that’s what NPRC research with animals does, and that’s worth talking about any day.

Learn more about research with animals scientific advancements 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

August 24, 2020

Note: The NPRCs will update this blog with our latest COVID-19 news.

Since beginning COVID-19 research in early 2020, NPRC researchers have made encouraging progress in efforts to better understand, diagnose, prevent and treat this novel disease. We’re committed to conducting and enabling research to end this global pandemic and to providing information so the public has ready access to our scientific results.

Our most recent COVID-19 news includes: 

  • February 9, 2021: Tulane NPRC unravels what makes people COVID-19 super-spreaders
  • February 4, 2021: Yerkes NPRC researchers developed a COVID-19 vaccine that is safe and effective in animals models, easily adaptable to address variants and may be equally effective with a single dose. Hear directly from the lead researcher here (beginning at 23:03) and watch the latest update here.
  • February 3, 2021: Tulane NPRC leads national research partnership to speed up COVID-19 vaccines and drug discoveries

Below is even more information about our extensive and collaborative COVID-19 research:

Diagnostics:

Prevention:

Treatments:

Additional NPRC COVID-19 News:

Bookmark this page so you can easily return here for the latest NPRC COVID-19 research information. We’ve also compiled a list of resources here and provided links to previous NPRC COVID-19 news and national media stories here.

August 18, 2020

For some, a summer internship is merely a stepping stone into their career. But for Brendan Creemer, a junior biology major at Portland’s Lewis & Clark College, a recent summer internship meant so much more.

Creemer has Usher syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes progressive vision loss and deafness. He spent much of the summer in the laboratory of the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) with neuroscientists Martha Neuringer, PhD and Trevor McGill, PhD, working on a method to improve the ability to use stem cells as a possible treatment for the disorder.

For more than 40 years, Neuringer has taken on high school and college summer interns, but Creemer is the first intern to live with the often-debilitating symptoms of Usher syndrome.

“I’ve been working for many years on retinal diseases and potential therapies without that personal connection,” said Neuringer, a professor in the Division of Neuroscience at the ONPRC and research associate professor of ophthalmology in the OHSU School of Medicine. “It’s all the more motivation when you know what it’s like for someone facing this.”

Creemer sought out the internship after learning about the research through the OHSU Casey Eye Institute.

“You have that choice to either give up and assume everything is hopeless or choose to take action and not only help yourself but others around you as well,” he wrote of his experience.

Creemer’s summer project focused on a key issue for stem cell therapies: rejection of transplanted cells. When stem cells are delivered as therapies for any health issue, they are perceived as “non-self” by the recipient and attacked by the immune system. Creemer analyzed a possible method to suppress the immune system in rodents, which was then tested to see if it enhanced the survival of retinal stem cell transplants.

“It makes it so much more palpable and real when you see how someone deals with their limitation and overcomes it,” Neuringer said. “It was a perfect match.”

The scientists at the NPRCs across the country are focused on solving myriad genetic disorders. Discover more of our latest research here.

July 8, 2020

Children born to HIV-positive mothers are susceptible to contracting the disease themselves, but scientists at Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) have new evidence suggesting that newborn infection may be entirely preventable.

The researchers successfully demonstrated, in a non-human primate model, that a single dose of an antibody-based treatment given after virus exposure can prevent HIV transmission from mother to baby, provided that dose is given at the correct time. 

The study found that rhesus macaque newborns did not develop the monkey form of HIV (known as SHIV), when they received a combination of two antibodies 30 hours after being exposed to the virus. This is the first time a single dose of broadly neutralizing antibodies given after viral exposure has been found to prevent SHIV infection in nonhuman primate newborns.

However, when the antibody treatment was delayed until 48 hours after exposure, half of the baby macaques developed SHIV, even when given four smaller doses of the same antibody. 

Previous research by this group has shown that four doses of antibodies started 24 hours after exposure also prevented SHIV infection, and the current ONPRC study suggests that a three-week course of antiretroviral therapy given after virus exposure could also prevent HIV transmission to newborns.

“These promising findings could mean babies born to HIV-positive mothers can still beat HIV with less treatment,” said Nancy Haigwood, PhD, ONPRC director and a professor of pathobiology and immunology at the OHSU School of Medicine.

Antibodies aren’t toxic and can be modified to last a long time in the body, which reduces treatment frequency. This means antibody treatments may also help prevent negative side effects from the drug combination currently given to infants born to HIV-positive mothers.

Next, ONPRC scientists plan to see if different antibodies, or a combination of antibodies and antiretroviral therapy, could be even more effective. They also hope to find out whether the antibodies actually eliminate HIV or only prevent it from replicating.combination. This suggests that there is a 30-hour limit for the successful use of antibodies to prevent HIV transmission to newborns.

June 11, 2020

Scientists have made one more step toward the treatment and cure of multiple sclerosis (MS) by developing a compound that successfully promotes the regeneration of the protective myelin sheath around nerve cells.

In a recent study, scientists at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) described successfully testing the compound in mice, and they have already started to apply it to a rare population of macaque monkeys who develop a disease that is similar to MS in humans.

“I think we’ll know in about a year if this is the exact right drug to try in human clinical trials,” said senior author Larry Sherman, PhD, an OHSU professor in the Division of Neuroscience at the primate center. “If it’s not, we know from the mouse studies that this approach can work. The question is, can this drug be adapted to bigger human brains?” 

The discovery arrives after more than a decade of research following a 2005 breakthrough by Sherman’s lab. In that study, scientists discovered that a molecule called hyaluronic acid (HA), accumulates in the brains of patients with MS. The researchers then linked this accumulation of HA to the failure of cells called oligodendrocytes (which generate myelin) to mature. 

Myelin forms a protective sheath covering each nerve cell’s axon—the threadlike portion of a cell that transmits electrical signals between cells. Damage to myelin is associated with MS, stroke, brain injuries and certain forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. Delay in myelination can also affect infants born prematurely, leading to brain damage or cerebral palsy. 

Other studies led by the Sherman lab have shown that HA is broken down into small fragments in multiple sclerosis lesions by enzymes called hyaluronidases, and these fragments send a signal to immature oligodendrocytes to not turn on their myelin genes. 

There is currently no cure for MS, but an international team of researchers led by OHSU has been working to develop a compound that neutralizes the hyaluronidase in the brains of patients with MS and other neurodegenerative diseases. This will ideally revive the ability of progenitor cells (descendants of stem cells that differentiate, or change, into specific cell types) to mature into myelin-producing oligodendrocytes and regenerate myelin sheath. 

The ONPRC macaque study describes a modified flavonoid—a class of chemicals found in fruits and vegetables—that does just that. The compound, called S3, reverses the effect of HA and promotes functional remyelination in mice. 

“It’s not only showing that the myelin is coming back, but it’s causing the axons to fire at a much higher speed,” Sherman said. “That’s exactly what you want functionally.”

The next phase of research involves testing, and possibly refining, the compound in macaque monkeys who carry a naturally occurring version of MS called Japanese macaque encephalomyelitis. The condition, which causes clinical symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis in people, is the only spontaneously occurring MS-like disease in nonhuman primates in the world. 

Researchers at the ONPRC and other NPRC locations are consistently making breakthrough discoveries to help treat and eradicate MS and other neurological diseases. Learn more about the latest findings here.

April 2, 2020

In the midst of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, scientists at the National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) have initiated research programs to better understand and diagnose as well as develop potential treatments and vaccines for the disease. NPRC animal colonies will be key in moving SARS-CoV-2 infection/COVID-19 research from cell models to studies in whole living systems so researchers can determine treatment safety and effectiveness.

Since the virus began to spread at the end of 2019, more than 3 million people have been infected worldwide as of April 28, 2020, with numbers growing daily. The coordinated efforts of the scientific community will be crucial to slow the spread of COVID-19, lower the risk of transmission and treat those who have the disease.

NPRC COVID-19 Research

Several of the NPRCs have made public announcements that research is under way, including California NPRC, Southwest NPRC, Tulane NPRC and Wisconsin NPRC. Others, including Oregon, Washington and Yerkes NPRCs, are also beginning research, and Oregon and Yerkes are accepting applications for COVID-19 pilot projects, which facilitate research collaborations and provide important preliminary data.

California NPRC researchers have already isolated, characterized and cultured COVID-19 from a patient treated at UC Davis, the first community-acquired case in the U.S. Next, they plan to make diagnostic tests in-house.

The Southwest NPRC scientists are proposing research projects to establish a nonhuman primate model to study the development and transmission of the disease, test new detection methods and partner with others in the scientific community.

At Tulane NPRC, researchers plan to create a nonhuman primate model to study the disease’s clinical progression, how it is transmitted through the air and how it specifically affects aging populations. The scientists are aiming to answer many questions, including why older individuals are more susceptible to complications and death from COVID-19.

In Wisconsin NPRC researchers have developed a coalition of scientists to combat the disease, drawing heavily from their firsthand experience during the Zika virus outbreak in 2016.

Yerkes NPRC researchers have begun initial research, and the center’s goals include understanding immunity and antibody response to SARS-CoV-2, and developing diagnostics, key reagents, antiviral therapies and vaccines.

COVID-19 Research Safety

The NPRCs are well-positioned to conduct SARS-CoV-2 infection/COVID-19 research because of our expertise in infectious diseases and collaborations internally at each NPRC as well as across NPRCs and with colleagues worldwide. Also, we can conduct such research safely in our Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) facilities specifically designed to keep personnel, the research and the environment safe. Examples of BSL3 safety features include additional training and oversight for employees, directional air flow and filtered ventilation systems, and specialty equipment to contain the virus isolates used in the research and to decontaminate the lab space and research equipment and supplies.

News Stories about NPRC COVID-19 Research

Recent news articles by STAT News, Bloomberg, The Scientist and ABC News provide more information about the NPRC studies and the critical role of research with animals.

As we have more information to share about NPRC COVID-19 research, we’ll post information at NPRC.org/news and tweet from @NPRCnews. In the meantime, here are a few helpful COVID-19 resources we’re following.

 

March 21, 2020

At the NPRCs, our focus is conducting research and caring for our irreplaceable animal colonies so we can help people and animals live healthier lives. In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are prioritizing our research to focus on developing diagnostics, preventions and treatments for this novel disease.

As we work to combat this health crisis, we also want to help keep you informed about the latest developments. Below are some of the resources we are following. These organizations are on the front lines of combatting COVID-19 and are frequently sharing crucial information regarding public health, personal guidelines and coronavirus research.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html

World Health Organization
www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

National Institutes of Health
https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus

In addition, we want to provide resources to help address any mental health and emotional well-being concerns COVID-19 brings for you and your loved ones:

CDC’s Recommendations for Managing Anxiety and Stress
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html

National Alliance on Mental Illness
https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/NAMI-News/2020/NAMI-Updates-on-the-Coronavirus

Just for Kids: A Comic Exploring the New Coronavirus
https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/02/28/809580453/just-for-kids-a-comic-exploring-the-new-coronavirus

The NPRCs are working closely with our collaborators worldwide to address COVID-19. Look for updates from us at NPRC.org and @NPRCnews.

February 26, 2020

Thanks to recent research conducted by scientists at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), a new avenue to in vitro fertilization (IVF) could soon be opened for prospective parents who were previously told it was unadvisable or impossible.

A perfect embryo contains 46 perfect chromosomes, but some have more, and others have fewer. The result is a common abnormality known as aneuploidy, which occurs in as many as 80 percent of human embryos. Because aneuploidy has been linked to a risk of in vitro fertilization failure, miscarriage and certain genetic orders or birth defects, mosaic embryos— those with both normal and abnormal cells—have not been considered ideal candidates for IVF transfer.

For prospective mothers who only produce mosaic embryos, this can mean the IVF journey may end before it begins. But that could change very soon.

The ONPRC study, led by Shawn L. Chavez, PhD, an assistant professor of reproductive and developmental sciences at ONPRC at OHSU, and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and physiology and pharmacology in the OHSU School of Medicine, is the first to confirm mosaic embryos can adapt and persist in development in a nonhuman primate model, resulting in positive IVF outcomes.

Using advanced time-lapse imaging and single-cell sequencing techniques to precisely track the development of mosaic embryos of a rhesus macaque, Chavez and team identified a relationship between mosaicism and two other biological processes: cell fragmentation and blastomere exclusion.

In utero and after IVF, large cells formed by the division of a fertilized egg, known as blastomeres, may break down into small pieces called cellular fragments. These fragments, it seems, can serve as a sort of cellular cleanup crew.

“We found that both the blastomeres and their fragments can act as trash bins within the embryo. As DNA-carrying cells divide and/or fragment, the embryo appears to naturally identify which blastomeres have genetic abnormalities and stop them from further development,” said Chavez.

He further explained that by the stage in which an embryo would implant into the uterus, these abnormal cells or DNA have been visibly excluded from the rest of the embryo, suggesting that imperfect IVF embryos could be considered for use in transfer and could possibly endure in utero.

According to Paula Amato, MD, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the OHSU School of Medicine, this discovery could positively impact IVF processes for humans in the future.

 “While selecting embryos with a normal chromosome complement is preferred and carries a high chance of pregnancy success, it is not a guarantee,” she explained. “For patients with only mosaic embryos available for transfer, these findings suggest that in some cases, these embryos will result in apparently normal pregnancies.”

Ongoing research will use live-cell time-lapse imaging to better understand the relationship between aneuploidy, cell fragmentation and blastomere exclusion within the embryo. The scientists believe these results could open up new avenues for testing mosaic human embryos.

“We expect that the overall results will be similar to the story of the ‘dark horse,’” said Chavez. “While not perceived as a contender at the start of the IVF race, a mosaic embryo may still be capable of winning and resulting in something wonderful.”

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