Contributions of nonhuman primate research to human health

Nearly all modern medical advances have depended on research with animals along some step of the way. Research with nonhuman primates often serves as a critical link between basic science and human clinical application.

Following are examples of how research with nonhuman primates has helped advance science and medicine.


  • Components of blood and plasma discovered
  • Treatment of pellagra


  • Diagnosis and treatment of typhoid fever


  • Modern anesthesia and neuromuscular blocking agents
  • Mumps virus discovered


  • Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Discovery of the Rh factor, blood-typing knowledge critical for safe blood transfusions


  • Polio vaccine
  • Chlorpromazine and its tranquilizing derivatives
  • Cancer chemotherapy
  • Yellow fever vaccine


  • Mapping of the heart’s connections to arteries
  • German measles vaccine
  • Therapeutic use of cortisone
  • Corneal transplants


  • Treatment of leprosy
  • Procedures to restore blood supply in the brain
  • Interaction between tumor viruses and genetic material
  • Understanding of slow viruses, which linger in the nervous system
  • Research leading to EPA ban on PCBs


  • Cyclosporine and anti-rejection drugs
  • Processing of visual information by the brain
  • Physiological and psychological co-factors in depression, anxiety and phobias
  • Treatment of malnutrition caused by food aversion following chemotherapy
  • Treatment of congenital cataracts and “lazy eye” in children
  • First animal model for research on Parkinson’s disease, enabling doctors to more accurately research human Parkinson’s disease
  • Heart and lung transplant to treat cardiopulmonary hypertension
  • First Hepatitis B vaccine
  • Rhesus monkey model for AIDS used to establish the effectiveness of early administration of AZT in cases of diagnosed infection
  • Taurine added to infant formulas. An amino acid in breast milk, taurine is necessary for normal retinal development


  • Estrogen controls an enzyme key to making serotonin, the brain chemical that regulates mood: first step to providing effective medications for postpartum,  postmenopausal, and menstrual cycle related depression
  • Toxicity studies for education and prevention of childhood lead exposure
  • First controlled study to reveal that even low-to-moderate levels of alcohol can be dangerous in pregnancy
  • Breakthroughs in understanding the mechanisms of puberty and puberty disorders
  • First monkey, then human embryonic stem cells successfully isolated and cultured
  • Control of intimal hyperplasia
  • The drug Ecstasy causes long-term brain damage
  • Parent to child lung transplants for cystic fibrosis
  • Monkey model developed for diabetes research
  • Regenerative mechanism discovered in the mature primate brain, spurring new research toward curing Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain disorders
  • Wild primate species help characterize emerging infectious diseases
  • Better understanding of influenza and knowledge for better vaccines
  • Development of anthrax vaccine
  • Development of life-saving medications for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • Essential research leading to new therapies and preventive strategies for HIV


  • Gene that boosts dopamine production and strengthens brain cells used to successfully treat monkeys showing symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
  • Monkey model developed to study the effects of malaria in pregnant women and their offspring
  • Cyclospora, a food-borne pathogen, characterized in primates
  • Beneficial effects of controlled calorie restriction on primate health and longevity
  • Better medications for people with insulin-dependent diabetes
  • Research leading to Cweet™, a natural sweetener safe for people with diabetes
  • High blood pressure medications to prevent heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure
  • Patients receive hip replacements and are no longer confined to wheelchairs
  • People with degenerative eye diseases see more clearly
  • Better medications improve the lives of people with severe depression, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric illnesses
  • Better pre- and postnatal care for pregnant mothers and infants
  • Earlier diagnoses and better treatments for polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, and breast cancer
  • Improved treatments help more men survive prostate cancer
  • Vaginal microbicides to help HIV-infected mothers give birth to HIV-free infants
  • Secondhand and smoke shown to affect prenatal, neonatal and child lung development, cognitive function and brain development
  • Exposure to wildfire smoke adversely affects development of the immune system
  • Understanding the effects of Bisphenol A (BPA), used commercially in plastics, on prenatal development

2010s -2020s

  • Pluripotent stem cell research moves into preclinical and clinical trials (e.g., Parkinson’s, heart disease, blindness), and also drug testing and environmental toxin screening
  • Macaques are prime model for developing Ebola treatments and vaccines
  • Identifying the actions of infectious agents that can cause miscarriages (such as listeria) and birth defects (such as Zika virus)
  • Understanding disease transmission routes, pathogenicity and genetics of COVID-19 for vaccine research

Sources: National Primate Research Centers, National Institutes of Health, NIH National Library of Medicine, Americans for Medical Progress, Foundation for Biomedical Research, Centers for Disease Control, San Francisco Bee, Massachusetts Society for Medical Research, Inc., National Institute on Drug Abuse, Children with Diabetes, Time Magazine, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Associated Press.