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Contributions of Nonhuman Primate Research to Human Health

Most major medical advances in this century have resulted in part from research on animals. Research with nonhuman primates often serves as a critical link between basic science and human clinical application. The National Primate Research Centers are dedicated to conducting humane research with nonhuman primates to continue to advance knowledge in primate biology and address human health concerns.

Following are just a few examples of how research with nonhuman primates has helped advance science and medicine, and continues to make an invaluable difference in our lives:

Early 1900s

  • Components of blood and plasma discovered.
  • Treatment of pellagra.


  • Ability to diagnose and treat typhoid fever.


  • Modern anesthesia and neuromuscular blocking agents.
  • Mumps virus discovered.


  • Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Discovery of the Rh factor, blood-typing knowledge critical for safe blood transfusions.


  • Development of polio vaccine.
  • Chlorpromazine and its tranquilizing derivatives.
  • Cancer chemotherapy.
  • Development of yellow fever vaccine.


  • Mapping of the heart's connections to arteries.
  • Development of German measles vaccine.
  • Therapeutic use of cortisone. 
  • Corneal transplants. 


  • Treatment of leprosy. 
  • Procedures to restore blood supply in the brain.
  • Interaction between tumor viruses and genetic material.
  • Understanding of slow viruses, which linger in the nervous system.


  • Development of cyclosporine and anti-rejection drugs.
  • Processing of visual information by the brain.
  • Identification of physiological and psychological co-factors in depression, anxiety and phobias.
  • Treatment of malnutrition caused by food aversion following chemotherapy.
  • Treatment of congenital cataracts and "lazy eye" in children.
  • First animal model for research on Parkinson's disease, enabling doctors to more accurately research human Parkinson's disease.
  • Heart and lung transplant to treat cardiopulmonary hypertension.
  • First Hepatitis B vaccine.
  • Rhesus monkey model for AIDS used to establish the effectiveness of early administration of AZT in cases of diagnosed infection.
  • Addition of taurine to infant formulas. An amino acid in breast milk, taurine is necessary for normal retinal development.


  • Estrogen discovered to control an enzyme key to making serotonin, the brain chemical that regulates mood. Represents first step to providing effective medications for depression at the end of the menstrual cycle, and postpartum and postmenopausal depression.
  • Lead toxicity studies help U.S. fight childhood lead exposure.
  • Ongoing development of a one-dose transplant drug to prevent organ rejection.
  • First controlled study to reveal that even moderate levels of alchohol are dangerous in pregnancy.
  • Breakthroughs in understanding the mechanisms of puberty and disorders of puberty.
  • Primate embryonic stem cells studied extensively for the first time, advancing efforts to better understand reproduction and genetic disorders.
  • Control of intimal hyperplasia.
  • Ecstasy causes long-term brain damage long after the high has worn off.
  • Parent to child lung transplants for cystic fibrosis.
  • Monkey model developed for diabetes research.
  • Naturally regenerative mechanism discovered in the mature primate brain, spurring new research toward curing Alzheimer's, other degenerative brain disorders.
  • Wild primate species help characterize emerging infectious diseases.
  • Rhesus and cynomolgus monkey kidneys developed for use in diagnosing influenza.
  • Development of anthrax vaccine.
  • Development of life-saving medications for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).


  • Gene that boosts dopamine production and strengthens brain cells used to successfully treat monkeys showing symptoms of Parkinson's Disease, a neurodegenerative disorder.
  • Monkey model developed to study the effects of malaria in pregnant women and their offspring.
  • Cyclospora, a food-borne pathogen, is characterized in primates.
  • Calorie restriction without malnutrition provides major health benefits at the cellular and whole organ levels and may extend maximum lifespan.
  • Rhesus monkeys are prime model for development of HIV treatments and potential vaccines.
  • Human pluripotent stem cell discoveries based on research in monkeys makes dramatic advances, moves into clinical trials.
  • Insulin-dependent diabetics live longer, fuller lives.
  • High blood pressure is treated to prevent heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.
  • Patients can receive hip replacements and are no longer confined to wheelchairs.
  • People with degenerative eye diseases are able to see more clearly.
  • Better medications improve lives of people with severe depression, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric illnesses.
  • Better pre- and postnatal care protects children.
  • Earlier diagnoses and better treatments help those with polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, and breast cancer.
  • Improved treatments help more men survive prostate cancer.
  • HIV-infected mothers can give birth to HIV-free infants.
  • Secondhand smoke shown to affect prenatal, neonatal and child lung development, cognitive function and brain development.
  • Exposure to wildfire smoke adversely affects development of the immune system.
  • Understanding of the effects of BPA on prenatal development improve health of children and adults.

(Sources: United States Surgical Corps, Centers for Disease Control, San Francisco Bee, Massachusetts Society for Medical Research, Inc., Ross Labs, National Primate Research Centers, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Children with Diabetes, Time Magazine, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Associated Press, US National Library of Medicine - NIH.)

Last updated 1-28-2015