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Discoveries Through Primate Models

Most major medical advances in this century have resulted in part from research on animals. Nonhuman primates often serve as a critical link between basic research and human clinical application. The Wisconsin Primate Research Center is dedicated to conducting humane research with nonhuman primates to advance knowledge in primate biology and address human health concerns.

Major Medical Advances Aided by Research with Nonhuman Primates

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.
  • Discovery that alcohol is toxic to the liver.


  • Development of cyclosporine and anti-rejection drugs.
  • Processing of visual information by the brain.
  • Identification of psychophysiological 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 curing diabetes.
  • 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.


  • 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.
  • Dietary restriction without malnutrition provides major health benefits and may extend maximum lifespan.
  • Rhesus monkeys are now prime model for development of HIV treatments and potential vaccines. There are 14 licensed anti-viral drugs for treatment of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection alone.
  • Human embryonic stem cell work based on research in monkeys makes dramatic advances.

(Sources: United States Surgical Corps, Centers for Disease Contol, San Francisco Bee, Massachusetts Society for Medical Research, Inc., Ross Labs, National Center for Research Resources National Primate Research Centers Program, National Insitutes of Health, National Insitute on Drug Abuse, Children with Diabetes, Time Magazine, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Associated Press, PubMed.)