A brief history of primate research: Global health improvements and ethical challenges

  • Paul Honess
Keywords: Primate research, Biomedical research, Ethical challenges, Primate welfare, Translational research, Health benefits


Humans have benefitted from close relationships with animals for hundreds of thousands of years. However it has only been in relatively recent times that they have made use of the scientific investigation of animals; their anatomy, physiology and response to disease in attempts to alleviate human suffering. Scientists rapidly realized the value of primates as research models – their evolutionary proximity to humans making them better predictors, or models, of human biology. Systematic studies using primates began in the last century and massive demand for research subjects almost caused the extinction of some important wild populations. This resulted in initially ex situ and then latterly in situ breeding centers, purpose-breeding animals for biomedical research. Primate research typically follows that using less sentient animals (generally rodents) in which mechanism and proof of principle are established before examining effect and safety in primates. The quality of life of millions of people has rested on progress from primate research. The broader society has become more concerned with how we treat animals and use of animals in research has come under particular scrutiny. The actions of extremists have threatened not only the continued use of primates in research, but also the property, welfare, and occasionally, lives of those that have committed their careers to studying primates to aid humanity. This commentary examines the history of primate research and discusses key advances as well as important lessons learnt about the ethics surrounding the use of primates in research.

KEY WORDS: Primate research; Biomedical research; Ethical challenges; Primate welfare; Translational research; Health benefits


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1694-2078
print ISSN: 1694-2086