The use of primates in experimentation is an extremely
controversial issue. Some scientists claim that primate experimentation
is crucial to medical advancement.1 Others claim that the use of
primates has not contributed to advances in the diseases that are
currently killing humans (i.e. heart disease, cancer, HIV, etc.) 2 While
humans are more closely related to primates than to other species,
primates may still be too dissimilar to be suitable subjects in studies
of human diseases. Significant questions are being raised regarding the
actual utility of primate experimentation.
Many people also have significant ethical concerns
regarding the use of primates in experimentation. The confinement of
primates for use in experimentation has significant consequences due to
their social nature. And if primates are psychologically similar to
human beings in their ability to suffer, then the use of primates in
potentially painful/stressful projects should raise serious moral
However, with the expansion of certain fields of
investigation, experimentation on primates is likely to increase in
coming years. Discussions are currently underway which could lead to an
increase in the funding of the Primate Center System by $100 million per
Therefore, this is a particularly relevant time to be
placing primate experimentation in general, and the larger primate labs
in particular, under closer scrutiny. This report marks the launching of
such an effort.
This report will discuss the level of funding given to
primate experimentation on the national level. While the funding issue
is being discussed, the closely related area of experimental duplication
(and the potential waste of federal funding) will also be examined.
This document will also examine the conditions
primates are subjected to within laboratories. While it is currently
difficult to discuss the situation within all laboratories, certain
specific labs will be examined regarding the way that primates are
One basic area that has become difficult to discuss is
the actual number of primates in laboratories. While the number of
primates in labs has been released by the USDA in a more thorough way
than ever before, the classification system used in releasing this
information has made it impossible to compare current statistics with
similar statistics from previous years. As a result, it will be
impossible to discuss trends based on the cumulative statistics
promulgated by the USDA. However, trends involving the use of primates
in experimentation can still be discussed by utilizing a different
This report will utilize one primary source of
information for the determination of trends for primate experimentation.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) CRISP system, which catalogues
all grants funded by this agency will be the primary basis for
comparison. This measure of experimental direction is crucial because
the NIH funds the majority of experimentation performed within the U.S.
Supplemental data will be obtained from the DOD project database.
In summary, this report will provide invaluable
information regarding the number of primates within labs, the types of
experiments performed on primates, the number of projects using
primates, the funding of primate experimentation on the national level,
and the conditions within labs that use primates.
Expert Panel’s Recommendations for the Regional
Primate Research Centers Program, January 18, 2001, Office of Science
Policy and Public Liaison
Is Primate –Modeled Research Crucial, C. Ray Greek,
in Pathways to Progress, available at