World Day for Laboratory Animals raises major questions

24 Apr 2018 | Back to News, Publications and Annual Reports

What BPRC means for science, public health and animal welfare

Today is World Day for Laboratory Animals, a day established in 1979 due to people's frustration regarding the use of animals in laboratories. On this day, this sensitive issue is given even more attention than on any other day. It is a day on which we like to shed some light on the necessity and usefulness of the research carried out at BPRC.

The Biomedical Primate Research Centre (BPRC) conducts biomedical research which involves the use of three monkey species who can serve as animal models for the study of serious diseases in humans. Through this research, we seek to contribute to the development of new medications or therapies for serious diseases. Why is animal testing involving primates still necessary in this process? Are there any alternative methods which can be used? What kinds of lives do our monkeys have at our place?

We can imagine that questions like these may have occurred to you, and that you would like to receive some clear answers to these questions. You are entitled to such answers. Therefore, we feel it is our duty to provide you with clear and thorough information. We will be very happy to tell you what we do at our scientific research institute and how our work benefits society.

Why we need monkeys for our research

BPRC is a scientific research institute that conducts biomedical research on serious diseases, e.g. AIDS, malaria, hepatitis, tuberculosis and autoimmune diseases such as MS. The more the animals used in these studies resemble humans, the better. Our tests have the greatest predictive power when performed on monkeys, as monkeys are the animals that are genetically most similar to human beings. They are genetically more identical to humans than mice, which are also often used in lab experiments. Rhesus macaques are genetically an impressive 93% identical to humans, which is why this species is often used for research purposes. Experiments involving rhesus macaques give us the results that most closely resemble the results we would obtain if we were to perform our experiments on humans.

Our methods

In certain cases, animal testing is required for the proper performance of our research duties. BPRC always operates in accordance with the Dutch Experiments on Animals Act, which stipulates that monkeys can only be used in biomedical research on serious diseases if no alternative methods are available. We adhere to the principle of the three Rs: Reduction, Refinement and Replacement. The principle of the three Rs basically amounts to our being able (thanks to new technologies and improved selection methods) to minimise the number of animals we need for testing purposes and to our seeking to make our monkeys' lives as pleasant as possible.

What we do to guarantee that we will one day be able to conduct research that does not involve animal testing

Everybody wants to reduce the number of studies involving animal testing. We do, too. In addition, our studies would be much cheaper, faster, easier and more flexible if they did not involve animals. For instance, we would be able to carry out many more simultaneous tests using culture systems. So even a primate research centre like BPRC, which values qualitative research, seeks to conduct research that does not involve animal testing. For this reason, we expend a great deal of energy and time on the development of research methods that do not involve animal testing, and we contribute to the implementation of alternative methods elsewhere. The more alternative methods we come up with, the better. However, for the time being, complete replacement of animal testing remains a time-consuming process.

What we do for monkeys living in the wild

Several primate species all over the world are endangered. BPRC researchers are seeking to develop methods that will help us protect various primate species from extinction in an animal-friendly manner. For instance, our Virology department analyses blood samples of animals which are held at conservation centres, awaiting their re-release into the wild. Blood samples of these animals are taken to confirm beyond doubt that these monkeys are ‘clean’. Generally, the conservation centres will send us the samples to be analysed, but where necessary we will travel to their site to perform the analysis.

Thanks to these partnerships, BPRC's scientific projects not only help improve public health, but also help improve primate welfare worldwide. Through its primate research, BPRC helps preserve primate colonies and keep them healthy, both in zoos and in the wild. In this way, BPRC makes a considerable contribution to the survival of rare primate species.