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.

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.

July 23, 2019

You may want to think twice before sharing a bite of spare food with animals you encounter in public places. That is, unless you’re willing to risk a staph infection.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that causes a wide range of infections, such as skin and soft tissue infections (SSTI), bone, joint and implant infections, pneumonia and more. Both penicillin and methicillin have been used to fight S. aureus, but strains resistant to all types of treatment have continued to emerge. Now, methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) has become a serious international problem.

In a hospital setting, MRSA can be deadly; in fact, it caused 11,000 deaths in hospitals in the U.S. in 2017. And while practices to reduce MRSA cases in hospital populations are improving, the bacterium continues to thrive in the wild in certain geographic areas. It is of particular concern in places where large numbers of humans and animals interact, including popular tourist destinations.

In a recent study, researchers at the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) at the University of Washington (UW) along with their Nepali colleagues sampled 59 rhesus monkeys within Nepal. Those monkeys have close interactions with humans, usually at temple sites, where people offer the animals food. The researchers used a non-invasive method to collect saliva samples from the monkeys with subsequent processing at a microbiology laboratory in Nepal.

The findings were astounding. Of the macaque samples tested, 6.8% were positive for MRSA, and three of four MRSA isolates were identified as ST22 SCCmec IV. The ST22 SCCmec IV strain is normally considered a human strain, and this study suggests that humans in Nepal are sharing their strains with the wild macaque populations.

The researchers further reiterate a warning that is becoming all too well known, that even minimal contact with wild animals, especially contact with saliva or an animal bite can present significant health risks to humans.

“Some types of MRSA are found all over the world and are pandemic strains,” said lead study author Marilyn C. Roberts, PhD. “The importance should be stressed in respect to these populations of wild animals. Even feeding chipmunks or ducks human food is not a good thing. They can pick up what we have, and we can pick up what they have. Some of the infectious agents wildlife carry can be deadly.”

“Given the results of our work in Nepal, we are now extending the MRSA investigation to primates in Thailand. These efforts are part of our larger collaborative program promoting the healthy coexistence between humans and primates,” added co-author and field researcher Randall C. Kyes, PhD.

 

Photo Credit: Randall C. Kyes, PhD

February 18, 2019

Ever wonder how your brain knows what a certain object is, even if the object is mostly hidden? Researchers at the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) at the University of Washington (UW) may have discovered an explanation for this phenomenon.

Researchers studied brain signals and tracked eye movements in rhesus monkeys while the animals played a computer game in which they attempted to identify half-hidden, two-dimensional objects and specific shapes.

“Basically, when the task is simple, (the) visual cortex works just fine, but when the task becomes difficult, there needs to be communication between a higher brain region involved in memory and learning,” Anitha Pasupathy, PhD, Associate Professor at the UW School of Medicine Department of Biological Structure, said about the results of the study.

These findings make the researchers wonder if impaired communication between the brain’s thinking and sensory parts might lead to certain difficulties, like confusion in cluttered surroundings, for people who have autism or Alzheimer’s.   

“This, for us, is a very exciting demonstration because it breaks open a whole lot of questions we can ask about how different brain areas interact to solve this important problem of visual recognition,” noted Pasupathy.

The scientists said the next step in their research is to determine if more brain areas are involved in recognizing objects with more complex images.



Photo credit: Kathy West for the California National Primate Research Center

 

January 16, 2019

Since the Zika virus epidemic of 2015, there has been a surge in the number of infants in the Americas born with small heads due to brain damage that occurred when their mothers were infected during pregnancy, a condition called microcephaly.

Scientists previously thought this condition was the primary indicator of brain damage due to Zika infection, but researchers at Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) have discovered damage may still be present when head size is normal.

“Current criteria using head size to diagnose Zika-related brain issues fail to capture more subtle brain damage that can lead to significant learning problems and mental health disorders later in life,” said Kristina Adams Waldorf, MD, FACOG, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UW School of Medicine who specializes in maternal and fetal infections. “We are diagnosing only the tip of the iceberg.”

In addition to Adams Waldorf, the lead researchers were Michael Gale Jr., PhD, a professor of immunology at the UW School of Medicine and an expert on how the body responds to viruses, and Lakshmi Rajagopal, PhD, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and expert on newborn infectious diseases at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and UW School of Medicine.

According to the researchers, even children with a normal head size at birth may be diagnosed with serious eye injuries or late-onset microcephaly when the head fails to grow normally. Damage may also occur in children infected during early childhood and adolescence. In addition, it’s possible undetected Zika brain damage may later lead to learning disorders, psychiatric illnesses and dementia.

In the study, researchers looked for subtle changes in the brains of five fetal macaques whose mothers had been infected with the Zika virus in pregnancy. In all but one case, the researchers found no obvious fetal abnormalities with weekly ultrasounds, a medical imaging technique that is commonly used during pregnancy to assess the health of developing fetuses.

The brains of the infected fetuses, however, did grow more slowly than normal, but they remained large enough so their smaller size did not meet the criteria for Zika virus-associated microcephaly the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses. Under these criteria, most children (between 91 percent to 96 percent) born in the United States whose mothers were infected with Zika during the pregnancy are also not considered microcephalic. As a result, those children might not be checked regularly for Zika-related brain injury.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the fetal brains, however, were abnormal in 4 of 5 of the animals. Certain areas of the brain were not growing as quickly as others. Brain regions particularly affected were areas that generate new brain cells, including the subventricular zone in the wall of the lateral ventricle, which contains the largest number of neural stem cells in the brain. Another injured part of the fetal brain was the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus, where neural stem cells play a key role in memory and learning and continue to contribute to brain health through at least adolescence.

“The study clearly shows that cells within these brain regions are highly susceptible to Zika virus infection. The findings suggest that neural stem cells within these sites, and at specific stages of development, are unable to suppress virus replication,” noted Gale.

Gale added these findings further emphasize the urgency for an effective vaccine to prevent Zika virus infections. The researchers also concluded Zika-exposed fetuses should continue to be checked for symptoms of the disease throughout their developmental years.

“All children exposed to Zika virus in utero should be followed long-term for problems with learning and development, regardless of head size at birth,” Adams Waldorf said.

October 15, 2018

For most of us, getting a flu shot ranks among the least exciting annual events. But researchers at the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) at the University of Washington (UW) are hoping to make this yearly obligation a thing of the past.

A team led by Deborah Fuller, a professor in the Department of Microbiology at the UW School of Medicine, is testing the effectiveness of a universal vaccine that protects from every strain of influenza virus, even when the viruses transform genetically from year to year. Working with cynomolgus macaques, the researchers have seen promise using a DNA vaccine that instructs skin cells to produce antigens, while inducing antibodies and T cell responses to fight flu infection.

The vaccine was created using genetic components of influenza virus that remain constant. This feature allows the vaccine to get around the genetic drift, or changes, that occur in influenza strains from year to year.

“With the immunized groups, we found that using this conserved component of the virus gave them 100 percent protection against a previous circulating influenza virus that didn’t match the vaccine,” Fuller said. “This was very exciting for us.”

The DNA vaccine is administered through the epidermis with a “gene gun” device, which injects the vaccine directly into the skin cells. The cells then produce the flu vaccine and prompt the body to actively fight infection. This is an improvement over current on-the-market vaccines, which simply repel the virus.

This approach also takes less time to produce—about three months—than the nine months required to produce the current U.S.-approved vaccine.

“We’ve been working essentially with the same vaccine (techniques) over the last 40 years,” Fuller noted. “It’s been a shake-and-bake vaccine: You produce the virus, you kill the virus, you inject it. Now it’s time for vaccines to go through an overhaul, and this includes the influenza vaccine.”

Fuller said that this kind of universal vaccine could eliminate the need for yearly flu vaccinations and be kept on-hand for rapid deployment in response to a deadly pandemic strain of the virus.

She added that DNA-based vaccines may also prove effective for different viruses, like Zika, and for other possible serious outbreaks.

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