The United States (US) imports monkeys from China for research purposes. Since China has banned wildlife trade, it’s more difficult for the seven national primate centers in the US to ‘get’ monkeys, leading to scientists looking for alternatives to test their products.
At the start of this year, China banned the trade of wild animals after COVID-19 spread at a market in Wuhan, which allegedly sold foxes, rats, monkeys, and civets. While this ban exempted animals used for research, it was subject to approval by the Chinese government.
According to The Atlantic, out of the 35,000 monkeys, which were imported to the US, 60 percent of that came from China. Before the pandemic, China ‘produced’ an estimated number of 70,000 test monkeys annually, reported The Globe and Mail.
Scientists making vaccines without animal testing
With a shortage of monkeys for research and the fast pace of COVID-19 vaccine development, some vaccine development research has moved into human trials or use non-animal methods.
Scientists across the world, from India to Canada, have been using human organoids and computer models.
In one example from a laboratory in San Diego, scientists use cells from patients infected with COVID-19 to create ‘mini lungs in a dish’, or ‘lung organoids’. These organoids can be transformed into 3D structures that mimic tiny human lungs, and even contain airway cells, inflammation cells and blood vessel cells.
“Mini lungs are an ideal system to further investigate these drugs because they can emulate the actual COVID-19 disease, and they may help us bypass animal testing and fast-track them to patients,” Sandra Leiber, a researcher at the lab at UC San Diego, said.
Her colleague Evan Snyder explained the benefits of this method: “Mini lungs will also help us answer why some people with COVID-19 fare worse than others.”
“Because they are made from human induced pluripotent cells (hiPSCs), which come from patients and retain most of the characteristics of those patients, we can make ‘patient-specific’ mini lungs,” he continued.
“We can compare the drug responses of mini lungs created from Caucasian, African American, and Latino men and women, as well as patients with a reduced capacity to fight infection to make sure that therapies work effectively in all patients. If not, we can adjust the dose or drug regime to help make the treatment more effective.”
Two weeks ago, The Animal Reader spoke to Alka Chandna, vice president of laboratory investigations at the animal welfare organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) about the lives of monkeys at the Primate Research Center. See the interview here.