4. Could alternatives completely replace the use of primates in the future?
The areas of scientific research that use non-human primates (NHPs) are highly complex and it is very difficult to predict the timing of progress in the field. Based on the scientific evidence available today, however, it is very unlikely that primates will completely be replaced in the foreseeable future by other animals or tests on cells grown in the laboratory.
To check that new drugs are safe, they have to be tested on animals that show a similar response to the drug as humans, and that often means testing in primates. Using alternative non-rodent species may reduce the number of primates used in tests, but it will increase the use of other species.
A genetically modified mouse that responds to the HIV virus in the same way humans do may be available in the future. However, it is not clear how the results of research on these mice will translate into real vaccines, particularly because we still do not know how to test if a person is immune to HIV. Therefore it is necessary to continue research on primates in order to learn as much as possible about the immune response.
Data from human clinical trials will help develop better ways of testing the effectiveness of vaccines in genetically modified mice and in cells grown in the laboratory. However, tests on mice cannot completely replace the use of primates. In addition, regulations make it compulsory to test the effectiveness and the safety of new vaccines on a relevant animal species such as apes or monkeys before they can be experimented on humans.
Computer modelling and a wider use of modern non-invasive techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which allows to visualise the structure of the brain, and positron emission tomography (PET), which produces images of the brain in action, can complement but not yet replace invasive tests in primates. However, technology improves quickly so it is important to frequently assess any progress in the development of non-invasive technologies.
Animal-to-human organ transplantations
The artificial development of organs and tissues may reduce the need for non-human primates used to test drugs that prevent transplant rejection from animals (mostly pigs) to humans. However, currently, artificial organs are mostly used in life-support machines and are not an alternative to animal-to-human organ transplantation. Moreover, there are no devices at present that can carry out the complex functions of organs such as the liver. More...