Vials of vaccine, microscopic image of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, closeup of a vaccine injection

Understanding disease transmission, pathogenicity and genetics of SARS-C0V-2 for vaccine research.

WNPRC Discoveries

The WNPRC is a leader in several key areas of basic and translational biomedical research, as well as in the humane care of captive animals. The center has a history of supporting high-impact research and discovery in regenerative medicine, reproductive biology, immunology, virology, aging and metabolic disease, neuroendocrinology, and behavior.

Our NIH-funded research has helped advance therapies for people with HIV, kidney disease, glaucoma, developmental disorders, autoimmune diseases, mental illness, polycystic ovary syndrome, infections that threaten healthy pregnancies and much more. Our research contributed to the COVID-19 vaccines we have today.

Our center’s pioneering stem cell research has led to clinical trials for heart disease, blood cancers, organ transplant, blindness, spinal cord injury and more. This year, we reported a major preclinical, stem-cell based Parkinson’s disease treatment that our researchers hope to advance to human clinical trials soon.

As we continue to make lifesaving discoveries, we take our responsibility to care for animals in research seriously. We follow animal welfare laws and guidelines and our research and animal care is scrutinized by numerous campus committees and federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health and US Department of Agriculture.

Following are decades of discoveries by WNPRC investigators:

  • Understanding emotion and anxiety, toward better treatments and interventions for psychological disorders. (Richard Davidson, Ned Kalin, Steven Shelton and colleagues, 1960s to present)
  • Improving nutrition, housing, enrichment and veterinary care for captive primates, including new diagnostics and clinical treatments. (WNPRC Animal Services Division. 1960s to present)
  • Research on suspected cancer and other toxic effects of PCBs on nonhuman primate health and pregnancy helped lead to the EPA ban on PCBs. (James Allen, Deb Barsotti, Bob Bowman, Sue Schantz, 1970s)
  • Neuroendocrine triggers of puberty, leading to better diagnosing and treating of puberty disorders and other neuroendocrine disorders. (Ei Terasawa, Jon Levine and colleagues. 1974 to present)
  • Advancing therapies for glaucoma and presbyopia. (Paul Kaufman and colleagues, 1978 to present)
  • Improved hormone analysis, for better monitoring and managing of captive and wild primates. (Toni Ziegler, Karen Strier, Charles Snowdon and colleagues, 1980s to present)
  • The world’s first rhesus monkey born Aug. 24, 1983 through in vitro fertilization, leading to improvements in IVF techniques for animals and people. (Barry Bavister, Steve Eisele and colleagues, 1984)
  • Developing better drugs to protect kidneys and other organs from transplant rejection and auto-immune diseases such as lupus nephritis. (Stuart Knechtle, Hans Sollinger and colleagues, 1980s-1990s)
  • Understanding, diagnosing and treating polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). (David Abbott, Dan Dumesic, Jon Levine, Robert Goy and colleagues, 1992 to present)
  • Uncovering harmful effects of dexamethasone on the brain. (Hideo Uno and colleagues, 1980s-1990s.)
  • Requirements for early pregnancy success, with aims to improve natural fertility and learn causes of miscarriage. (Ted Golos, Dee Schramm and colleagues, 1990s to present)
  • Beneficial effects of controlled calorie restriction on primate health and longevity. (Richard Weindruch, Joe Kemnitz, Ricki Colman and colleagues, 1989 to present)
  • Discovering how HIV infects the host and escapes the immune system (David Pauza, David Watkins, Dennis Burton, Ron Desrosiers, Ashley Haase and colleagues, 1980s and 1990s)
  • Advancing and improving HIV therapies and preventive strategies. (David Watkins, David OConnor, Thomas Friedrich, Eva Rakasz, Ashley Haase and colleagues, 1990s to present)
  • Developmental origins of insulin resistance and obesity (David Abbott, Joseph Kemnitz, Ricki Colman and colleagues, 1990s to present)
  • Understanding primate hormones, neuroendocrine control of paternal care, and successful family dynamics, with insight into human family dynamics. (Toni Ziegler, Charles Snowdon, David Abbott, Wendy Saltzman, and colleagues, 1990s to present)
  • Successful isolation and culture of monkey embryonic stem cells at the Primate Center in 1995, human embryonic stem cells off site with private funding in 1998, and human induced pluripotent (iPS) cells in 2007. (James Thomson and colleagues: iPS cells by Thomson and Junying Yu and WNPRC support)
  • Risk factors for endometriosis. (Joseph Kemnitz and colleagues. 1998 to present)
  • Largest NIH grant awarded to a primate center library ($2.5 million) to support worldwide information sharing and education in primatology and biomedical research. (Larry Jacobsen and colleagues, 2000)
  • The first blood, heart and brain cells successfully cultured by WNPRC scientists and collaborators from embryonic stem cells. (James Thomson, Dan Kaufman, Igor Slukvin, Tim Kamp, Clive Svendsen, Su-Chun Zhang and colleagues, early 2000s)
  • Improved fMRI and PET techniques for noninvasively studying the primate brain. (Toni Ziegler, Nancy Schultz-Darken, Craig Ferris, Ned Kalin, Steven Shelton, David Abbott, Alex Converse and colleagues, 2000s)
  • Gene transfer in rhesus monkeys, helping lead to future studies on transgenic and stem cell therapies. (Ted Golos and colleagues, 2001)
  • Development of topical microbicides to prevent HIV transmission from mothers to infants during birth. (Ashley Haase, Eva Rakasz and colleagues, 1999-2010)
  • Characterizing environmental toxicant effects on female reproductive function. (Reinhold Hutz and colleagues, 2000s)
  • Advancing research and therapies for global infectious diseases, including Ebola, dengue fever, influenza, and Zika virus. (David OConnor, Thomas Friedrich, Jorge Osorio, Yoshihiro Kawaoka, Tony Goldberg and colleagues. 2000s to present)
  • Advancing new treatments for Parkinsons disease. (Marina Emborg, Su-Chun Zhang, Jeffrey Johnson and colleagues, 2005 to present)
  • Revealing the harmful effects of excess Vitamin A in monkey and human diets, to help guide the formulation of better lab diets and human nutrition alike. (Sherry Tanumihardjo and colleagues, 2007)
  • Studies on taste in primates, leading to the development of an FDA-approved new natural sweetener for people with diabetes and those trying to cut sugar intake. (Gran Hellekant, Viktoria Danilova and colleagues, 1994-1997; Fariba Assidi-Porter and Jon Markley, 2008)
  • Discovering that excess calories leads to early menarche. (Ei Terasawa, Joseph Kurian and colleages, 2013)
  • Discovering that estrogens are produced in the brain, not just the ovaries, and that these neuroestrogens are important regulators of reproductive function. (Ei Terasawa and Brian Kenealy, 2015)
  • Discovering through brain imaging studies how anxiety is inherited. (Ned Kalin, Andrew Fox and colleagues, 2015)
  • Using MRI-guided PET non-invasive brain imaging to identify a neural basis for the action of flibanserin, the only FDA-approved therapeutic for hyposexual desire and arousal disorder in women (David Abbott, Yves Aubert, Alex Converse and colleagues, 2015)
  • Discovery of genes and epigenetic changes involved in neuroendocrine control of male reproduction. (Jon Levine, Ei Terasawa, Joe Kurian and colleagues, 2016)
  • Listeria may be serious miscarriage threat early in pregnancy. (Ted Golos, Charles Czuprynski and colleagues, 2017)
  • Discovering new harmful effects of Zika virus on the unborn fetus, with microcephaly being just the tip of the iceberg. (The Zika Experimental Science Team – “ZEST” – at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, 2017)
  • Stem cell-based therapies to prevent immune rejection in kidney and other solid organ transplants when anti-rejection medicines are eliminated. (Dixon Kaufman and colleagues, 2014 success with monkeys, 2018 success with humans)
  • Demonstrating for the first time how methylphenidate (MPH), marketed as Ritalin, acts on various regions and chemicals in the brain,  to inform doctors for safer dosing in children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (Luis Populin and colleagues, 2019)
  • Gene editing techniques to explore new treatments for HIV, blood cancers, and preventing organ transplant rejection. (Igor Slukvin and colleagues, 2020 to present)
  • Developing biomarkers to predict cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease (WNPRC Assay Services, 2020)
  • Developing the rhesus monkeys as a translational model to study late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. (Rozalyn Anderson, Ricki Colman and colleagues, 2021)
  • Understanding disease transmission, pathogenicity and genetics of SARS-C0V-2 for vaccine research. Macaques then became the model pharmaceutical companies used to develop safe and effective FDA-approved vaccines for COVID-19. (Numerous WNPRC Global Infectious Disease scientists and collaborators, 2020)
  • Preclinical, stem-cell based Parkinson’s disease treatment that researchers hope to advance to human clinical trials soon. (Marina Emborg, Su-Chun Zhang and colleagues, 2021)
  • Pinpointing the brain activity that measures consciousness, toward safer anesthesia administration and potential treatments for coma and other disorders of consciousness. (Yuri Saalmaan and colleagues, 2021)

Historically, we also note the related discovery of the Rh factor and its link to Rh disease, or hemolytic disease of the newborn in the 1930s and 1940s. Rh is named after the rhesus monkey. Studies in monkeys leading to this critical blood typing knowledge and safe blood transfusions to treat Rh disease were conducted by Karl Landensteiner, Alexander Wiener and Philip Levine. Levine was a physician who conducted research as well as Rh disease awareness and prevention advocacy at the Rockefeller Institute in New York beginning in 1925, and from 1932-1935 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical School.

The Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST) and the Wisconsin General Testing Apparatus (WGTA) were invented at UW-Madison in 1948 by researchers David Grant and Esta Berg. Today, this test and method are the worldwide gold standard for cognitive testing in both animals and people. Computer testing has long replaced the WGTA; however, the method remains essentially the same.

Finally, the research of Harry Harlow in the UW-Madison Psychology Department, before he became the Primate Center’s first director in 1961, revealed for the first time the critical importance of caregiving and companionship in social and cognitive development.

You can also find fact sheet in pdf form of some of our key discoveries here.

Please contact Jordana Lenon the Directors Office for more Primate Center history and discoveries. Electronic scans of our center’s newsletters dating back to 1972 reside with Ms. Lenon and also with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.