January 25, 2021

Alzheimer’s disease is far too common. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that more than 5 million Americans are living with it, and one in three seniors die from the disease or something related. Patients experience a gradual decline of memory and other important brain functions, which can cause great difficulty in older age. Unfortunately, early detection of age-associated cognitive dysfunction—although crucial—remains a challenge for scientists and medical professionals. 

Scientists at Texas Biomedical Research Institute’s (Texas Biomed) Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) recently made progress in this regard when they published findings indicating the baboon could be a relevant model to test therapeutics and interventions for neurodegenerative diseases, such as early-stage Alzheimer’s and others. 

The scientists observed a steep age-related cognitive decline in baboons about 20 years old, which is the equivalent of a 60-year-old human.  

“This is the first time a naturally-occurring model for early-stage Alzheimer’s has been reported,” explained Dr. Marcel Daadi, Associate Professor at Texas Biomed’s SNPRC. “(The baboon) model could be relevant to test promising drugs, to better understand how and why the disease develops and to study the areas of the brain affected in order to determine how can we impact these pathways.” 

Neurodegenerative diseases are related to the aging of brain cells and synaptic loss, which is a loss of the lines of communications inside the brain. Previous studies have pinpointed the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of the brain as one of the regions most affected by age. The PFC plays a key role in working memory function as well as self-regulatory and goal-directed behaviors, which are all vulnerable to aging.  

To observe whether these functions are impacted by aging in baboons and determine whether the baboons at varying ages could discern and learn new tasks, Dr. Daadi and his team separated the baboons into two groups based on age (adult group and aged group) and performed a series of cognitive tests. 

“What we found is that aged baboons lagged significantly in performance among all four tests for attention, learning and memory,” Dr. Daadi said.  

The researchers noted that a delay or inability to collect rewards increased in older baboons, suggesting a decline in motivation and/or motor skills. The team also demonstrated that aged subjects show deficiencies in attention, learning and memory. The findings are consistent with human studies that have suggested a sharp decline in brain systems function and cognition around 60 years. 

Until now, rodents have been the primary lab model to test therapeutic interventions for neurodegenerative diseases. But mice don’t always reflect human processes, so a nonhuman primate like the baboon could prove to be a more effective model for testing. 

“The failure rate in clinical trials of Alzheimer’s disease therapeutics is extremely high at about 99.6%, and we need to change that,” said Dr. Daadi. 

He indicated that the next steps would include performing imaging and examining biomarkers to better understand the origins and nature of the disease. 

The fight against Alzheimer’s is ongoing, and NPRC scientists are on the front lines. To learn more about the work happening at our locations around the country, visit this link

 

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.

December 7, 2020

Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV are two of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases, and they’re far worse when they occur together. Now, Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) researchers at Texas Biomedical Research Institute have pinpointed an important mechanism that could lead to a new mode of treatment for this co-infection.

It’s been long-assumed the reason people with HIV are more likely to develop TB is a depletion of specific immune cells. However, SNPRC scientists showed other effects of viral co-infection play a crucial role in this process.

Using data from nearly 40 rhesus macaques, the research team found lung-specific chronic immune activation is responsible for the progression of TB. Chronic immune activation is a dysfunction of immune pathways that create molecules (cytokines and chemokines) that fight off pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Professor and SNPRC Director Deepak Kaushal, PhD, used an analogy to explain what this dysfunction caused by an HIV infection does in the body.

“It’s like all the taps and faucets in your house are turned on full blast all the time,” he said. “You are going to lose a lot of water. With this dysfunction, all cytokines and chemokines are constantly being produced to the highest levels. This dysregulates the body’s ability to fight off other infections.”

Even with antiretroviral therapy (ART) for people with HIV, chronic immune activation still persists. Kaushal said this study shows, “we need to develop approaches to target chronic immune activation,” perhaps with a drug that would be an additional therapy to ART.

Kaushal said he is hopeful new treatment strategies could reach the clinic within a decade, and the effects could be huge. Up to a fourth of the world’s population is infected with TB, and this co-infection is considered a global syndemic, meaning the diseases are pandemics infecting people all around the world, and they promote each other.

Understanding TB is a priority for NPRC scientists, and this study is a continuation of the groundbreaking research being done across the organization. Just last year, researchers explored the possibility of treating the disease using a cancer drug.

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.

October 20, 2020

One primary objective of tuberculosis (TB) research is to discover how to treat people with the latent (or inactive) form of the disease so they don’t develop symptomatic TB.

Now, a breakthrough study from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center (YNPRC) and Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) has revealed how a specific combination of antibiotics could help.

For the study, the scientists created a latent infection in a group of rhesus macaques. They then treated half of the animals with a once-weekly combination of two antibiotics—isoniazid and rifapentine—for three months. The other half was untreated.

Numerous factors—including HIV infection, diabetes, aging or other diseases—can cause latent bacteria to become symptomatic and infectious again. To test whether the antibiotics had cleared bacteria from their lungs, both treated and untreated animals were infected with SIV (Simian immunodeficiency virus), which mimics HIV in humans. 

Of the animals that had no treatment for latent TB, 70 percent developed active TB after SIV infection. However, none of the animals that had the three-month course of antibiotics developed active TB after SIV infection, which suggests the treatment cleared the bacteria and prevented reactivation.

Because the current treatments for latent TB are lengthy, and many patients don’t finish them, a shorter treatment cycle like the one demonstrated in this study could be highly beneficial.

“The antibiotic treatment we used for this study is a new, shorter regimen the CDC recommends for treating humans with latent tuberculosis, but we did not have direct evidence for whether it completely clears latent infection,” explained Jyothi Rengarajan, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine at Emory University and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. “Our experimental study in macaques showing almost complete sterilization of bacteria after treatment suggests this three-month regimen sterilizes humans as well.”

The researchers at the NPRCs are working daily to find new potential treatments and cures for this infectious disease. Take a look at some of our other recent studies to learn about the progress we’ve made toward a TB-free world.

October 14, 2020

According to the World Health Organization, malaria infection affects an estimated 200 million people and kills more than 400,000 people worldwide every year—most of them children. Plasmodium parasites cause the disease, and malaria spreads to people by the bite of infected Anopheles mosquitoes. While important information, the scientific community still has much to learn about malaria in order to limit its impact.

“We don’t know what is inside malaria infections,” explained Ian Cheeseman, PhD, Assistant Professor at Texas Biomedical Research Institute, which is home to the Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC). “We don’t know how many different genetically distinct strains of parasites there are. We don’t know how related they are to each other. We don’t know how many mosquitoes they came from.”

To help answer these questions, Cheeseman and an international team of collaborators turned to a process called single cell genome sequencing. This technology allows for individual malaria parasite cells to be isolated and their genome amplified before being analyzed by a genome sequencer, which enables researchers to capture the genetic mutations present in a single cell. The process has been adopted by cancer researchers to understand how tumors evolve, but this study marked the first time the technology has been used to study malaria transmission.

The team examined single malaria-infected cells from patients in Malawi, a country heavily affected by the disease. Patients who donated malaria-infected blood samples used in this study reside in Chikhwawa, a region with a large mosquito population where people may be bitten by a malaria-infected mosquito every 48 hours.

The single cell sequencing approach applied in this study provides a new perspective on how often bites from an infected mosquito lead to a malaria infection. What researchers discovered went against conventional wisdom, as nearly all the infections they studied likely came from one mosquito bite each.

“We found that complex malaria infections are predominantly caused by a single mosquito bite transmitting many genetically diverse but related parasites into the bloodstream of a patient,” said Standwell Nkhoma, MSc, PhD, lead author on the study and a Malawian national.

Knowing this will enable scientists to design more effective interventions to block mosquitoes from spreading malaria and build better models to predict malaria transmission patterns and the spread of drug resistance. While a diagnosis of malaria is often treatable with drugs, the rise of antimalarial drug resistance is a major threat to malaria control across the world, as resistance to artemisinin and piperaquine, two common antimalarial drugs, continue to spread.

To learn more about how NPRC researchers are making progress toward controlling and eliminating infectious diseases worldwide, visit this link.

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 4, 2020

Tuberculosis (TB) kills 1.6 million people every year and is one of the top 10 causes of death globally. And while it’s been kept under control in most places, more than 95 percent of cases and deaths are in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Traditionally, it’s been difficult to prevent and treat TB in such regions, which is why Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) researcher Professor Jordi Torrelles, PhD, is focused on making a change. He developed a TB test that has been adapted for the challenging conditions typically encountered when diagnosing TB in developing countries.

“The way it’s done now, it takes 42 to 60 days before you get results from a TB test,” Torrelles said. “That’s before the patient is informed of results. When you factor that in, it’s more like 65 to 80 days from when the patient gives a sputum sample to when they learn whether they have TB.”

Torrelles traveled to Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa in early 2019 to establish research collaborations for testing this cheaper, faster, easier way to diagnose TB. The current widely-used, commercially available TB test costs 608 USD. Torrelles’ improved version has a projected cost of just 9 USD.

What’s more, the current test does not indicate if a person is infected with drug-resistant strains of TB. Patients with these strains are even more difficult to treat, as they do not respond to the most commonly used TB drugs, requiring expensive, lengthy treatment. Torrelles and team started with what’s known as an “agar” test—which shows if the patient is infected with TB and whether the bacteria type or strain is resistant to three commonly used drugs for treatment—and developed a special color plate that can test for resistance to 11 drugs. They created two versions: one diagnostic, the other a treatment-tracking version to check if the patient is responding to the treatment.

In the past, results have usually been returned in 21 days for TB strains that can be treated with drugs, and up to 80 days for drug-resistant strains. If the SNPRC team’s new test plates are kept refrigerated, results can be seen as soon as three to 14 days, Torrelles said. And while many health care facilities in developing countries don’t have access to refrigeration, the improved diagnostic test doesn’t require it. Even if kept at room temperature, results can be interpreted between three and 19 days.

TB research is a top priority for scientists across the National Primate Research Centers (NPRC) network. Check out more ways we’re working to eliminate the disease for good.

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.

 

Back to top