Non-human primates in research and safety testing
5. When primates cannot be replaced, how could their use be reduced?
Careful analysis of the results of tests on rodents could reduce the number of primates needed
Source: Understanding animal research
There are several ways to reduce the use of non-human primates (NHPs) in research areas where no replacement can yet be foreseen.
- To ensure that any newly developed drug is safe, it needs to be tested on two animal species, one of which not being a rodent. Dogs are often used as the non-rodent species and primates are used when dogs are not suitable. The use of primates may be reduced by examining more carefully how drugs are transformed within the body of rats, dogs or mammals other than primates. This may also help identify the most suitable species on which to test each drug, and thus reduce the use of primates. However, this may only shift the testing to other mammals.
- Using the same animals for different tests could reduce the number of primates needed. However, there are regulations to avoid the same animals being continually re-used for experimentation. But overly restricting the re-use of primates may result in an increased number of primates being used.
- Some newly developed drugs are made of antibodies that attack a specific disease-causing agent. To ensure that these drugs do not cause malformations in foetuses, they are tested on a number of pregnant primates. But these standard tests are typically carried out early in the pregnancy, when any transfer to the placenta is very low or absent and thus when risks of malformation are very low. Carrying out these tests towards the end of the pregnancy in combination with other tests that take place around the same time may reduce the number of animals used.
- Collaborating, sharing expertise and information between different animal-testing facilities and ensuring that safety testing procedures for drugs are similar across the world would ensure that experiments are effective and are not duplicated needlessly. Laboratories working to replace animal experiments should also be part of this information network.
- Advances in research may reduce and partly replace primates in testing of medicines and vaccines. For instance, stem cell research and tissue engineering may reduce the number of animals used in research on organ transplantation. Genetically modified rats would also reduce the number of primates used in safety testing. However, these techniques are still in the early stages of development.
In addition, there should be clear information available on how many animals of each species are used for experimentation, on the types of tests involved and on the reasons behind the choice of animal species and number of animals used. More...