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Non-human primates in research and safety testing

7. Conclusions and recommendations

    The Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER) concludes that the use of non-human primates (NHPs) remains crucial in several important areas of research and safety testing because they have a close and sometimes unique similarity to humans. These areas of research include understanding infectious diseases, learning how complex brains are structured and how they function, developing methods to use animal organs for transplantation, and safety testing of newly developed pharmaceuticals.

    Within the scope of this assessment, the scientific committee considered only scientific aspects, specifically excluding ethical, economic, cultural and social considerations which will be addressed by other groups.

    At present, the SCHER sees no valid scientific reasons to stop using non-human primates for scientific research. However, this position should be reviewed frequently as new techniques are constantly being developed.

    The SCHER supports the “three Rs” principle, which aims at reducing the number of animals being tested, refining the methodology used, and replacing the animals by alternative methods.

    The SCHER made the following recommendations:

    1. Non-human primates should be used only when it is scientifically justified. Justifications should be closely monitored and evaluated.
    2. Improved techniques such as non-invasive methods, in vitro tests and computer models should be encouraged.
    3. The potential benefits of using primates should frequently be assessed against possible alternatives so that those alternatives are adopted as soon as they are ready for use.
    4. Collaboration and data sharing should be promoted in order to make further progress towards the “three Rs”.
    5. A network should be created between the facilities that are breeding and maintaining the primates for research purposes in order to improve knowledge and competence regarding the welfare of the animals.
    6. Procedures on animals should not be too severe, and any work that would cause severe pain should be justified and approved.
    7. The replacement of primates by other animal species such as genetically-modified rodents and minipigs should be further investigated and supported.
    8. The use of wild-caught primates should be reduced as much as possible, for both scientific and animal welfare reasons.
    9. Evaluations of the use of primates bred for research purposes should take place on a regular basis. The aspects to be assessed are impacts on animal welfare as well as scientific and economical impacts of such a use.
    10. Work done outside of the EU with European support should meet European standards.
    11. Global networks should be set up to exchange information on the “three Rs” among those who use primates.
    12. Negotiations with countries outside the EU should be carried out to harmonize the requirements for safety testing of drugs.

    Research into areas that lead to improvements in the replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of primates should be promoted. More specifically, research should focus on:

    • The use of genetically modified animals to test vaccines and pharmaceuticals, while also considering the ethical aspects of this;
    • Developing methods of testing the safety of drugs using laboratory grown cells;
    • Understanding the similarities and differences between the immune systems of humans, non-human primates and other non-rodents;
    • Understanding the social needs and housing requirements of primates that would improve their physical and mental health;
    • Recognition of suffering in primates, and its classification, its avoidance, and its alleviation;
    • Developing new and refined experimental techniques on primates such as non-invasive methods (e.g. new MRI-based techniques);
    • The use of stem cells to avoid using primates in organ transplantation research;
    • A better understanding of how the brain works;
    • New methods of doing non-invasive, safe brain research in humans that could reduce and, in specific instances, replace experiments on primates.

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