United States. – Dr Skip Bohm, associate director and head of veterinary medicine at Tulane’s National Primate Research Center, assured USA Today that «there is a shortage» of monkeys to conduct experiments, especially during efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
The scientist referred to the hundreds of studies that are underway to develop vaccines against the new coronavirus, noting that there are not enough monkeys for everyone, as many times laboratories face import or domestic breeding restrictions of this species.
Although animal rights advocates condemn the use of primates in clinical trials, researchers claim that the method is essential for the development of medical science.
For their part, the National Primate Research Centres ensure that they try to use the fewest animals needed to achieve a valid scientific result. However, it is currently not possible to completely replace animal models with computer simulations or cell cultures.
«We all hope that the day will come when we don’t have to use animals in research, but right now not all humans are going to have a regular X-ray, CT or blood test test,» Bohm added. Experts at the Centre say Rhesus monkeys are the most commonly used primates for preclinical trials because they share about 93% of their genes with humans. For this reason, scientists are more familiar with how the immune system of this species fights pathogens, especially coronaviruses.
«Their immune systems and immune responses are very similar to those seen in humans and can give a very good idea of the safety and efficacy of vaccines,» added researcher Jay Rappaport.
«This is not the last pandemic we’re going to see»
While experts believe that there is no immediate solution to address the shortage of monkeys and the space that laboratories need to safeguard them, they believe that primate centers and other institutions require more funds to expand breeding colonies and expand facilities.
Finally, Bohm said some research centers have reviewed the possibility of creating an available animal reserve when an unforeseen emergency arises. «One thing is for sure, this is not the last pandemic we’re going to see,» Bohm said, adding that a situation similar to the current one «is inevitable.»