Using Non-Human Primates for Medical Research

A number of drugs are first tested on animals, especially non-human primates, to ensure their safety before being administered to human beings. I believe that it is not proper to use animals in medical research since the public health as well as its welfare heavily depends on these animals. This means that the testing of the drugs on non-human primates may endanger the life of human beings due to the sale of unsafe or hazardous products. In addition, though non-human primates such as chimpanzees, baboons, marmosets, and macaque, have been used in medical research for conditions such as AIDS, hepatitis C, stoke and malaria, only limited success have been made for the benefit of humans. This essay paper thus argues against the use of non-human primates in medical research and advocates for development of advanced scientific techniques. This view is based on scientific, ethical and conservation grounds (Animal Defenders International, 2012).

As Bailey (2005) puts it, non-human primates have advanced social and behavioral repertoire and high level cognitive skills just like human beings and should not be used for medical research. It is believed that their brains and that of humans share structural and functional features. That is, various species of non-human primates have over time expressed emotions such as jealousy, affection, courtship behavior, and empathy just as humans do.  For example, chimpanzees resemble humans in displaying a range of postures as well as gestures. They greet one another with kisses and even embrace.  It is based on these similarities to humans that certain scientists have argued that it is justified to use them in medical research. I however refute this claim based on scientific, ethical as well as conservation grounds. These significant similarities provide reasons beyond doubt as to why non-human primates should not be used for experimental purposes, as there is likelihood that they feel pain and suffering just as humans do.

I agree with Trust (2008) who notes that capturing and isolating primates, then breeding and using them in laboratory and transporting them across the world definitely compromise their physical and psychological health. These contravene the reasoning that these animals deserve to be accorded consideration regarding their well being. It is as well logical that good and accurate results cannot be obtained by research scientists from animals that have been neglected, mistreated or abused as is usually the case. This may lead to inaccuracy which may result due to biochemical changes that usually occur in animals’ bodies due to stress of being confined within the laboratory environment. Furthermore, small animals are usually used for test of the drugs before primates are finally used for the confirmation of safety late in the testing strategy. This implies that several smaller animals could have already died way before the non-human primates are stressed with the same drugs.

Another major shortcoming in the use non-human primates in medical research is the fact that they are of different species as humans. Non-human primates share with us over 90% of DNA. However, the small difference can only be ignored at our own peril. The difference in genetic makeup and biology poses a challenge in establishing the safety of the drugs as every species respond differently to drugs and chemicals. This clearly illustrated by Bailey (2005) who notes that the manner in which drugs travel through the body system as well as the rate and route by which they are broken down and finally excreted is very crucial. This is referred to as drug’s ADME, a process that begins by absorption to distribution then to metabolism and finally to excretion. Human genes and other factors greatly influence the ADME of any drug.

Consequently, any little difference in genetic makeup between human and other primates is important in drug development and testing. I thus agree with various scholars who criticize the use of non-human primates such as monkeys irrespective of the similarities in their absorption kinetics and that of humans. This is due to marked differences in oral bioavailability which is lower in monkey (Trust, 2008). Moreover, total as well as non-renal plasma clearances are both higher in monkey as opposed to human. I therefore believe that it is important for caution to be exercised in extrapolating data which has been obtained for monkeys since it may not be able to predict that in humans.

Finally, the comprehensive studies that have been conducted in comparative drug toxicology have clearly revealed substantial discordance between results obtained from animals and humans. The results indicate that non-human primates are not predictive of human response based on toxicology. Over time, most drugs that successfully go through the clinical trial stage and supplied to the market have safety profile that is questionable (Abee, 2012). My review of literature reveals that, in the Western world, adverse drug reactions (ADRs) are still fourth biggest killer even though the drugs apparently elicit no threat to the non-human primates used as models. One case that I found interesting was that of the Hormone Replacement Therapy (HTR) which was first experimented on non-human primates before it was prescribed to millions of women. Though, the therapy was thought to be protective against heart disease as well as stroke, it is now well known to increase risk of both heart diseases and stroke. Over the past decade, the therapy has been implicated as a cause of breast cancer in up to 20000 cases (Trust, 2008).


With the current trend in technological development, most of the tests that are being carried on non-human primates to be applied in humans are scientifically being challenged. The funds used in non-human primates’ medical research should thus be directed to advanced non-animal techniques. The new techniques such as microdosing and toxicogenomics offer better and improved scientific results which are more relevant to human beings. These developments are advantageous over the use of non-human primates as they provide data directly applicable to human beings while also representing the cutting edge of science.