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Public Health (20-01-2009)

Scientific Committee opinion on the need for non-human primates in biomedical research, production and testing of products and devices

On 13 January 2009 the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER) adopted an opinion on the need for non-human primates (NHPs) in biomedical research, production and testing of products and devices. The opinion covers the major areas of research in which NHPs are used [1]. The scope of the opinion is confined to the scientific aspects and does not consider the ethical, economic, cultural and social aspects of NHPs use.  The opinion was requested from Directorate General on Environment in the framework of the revision of the Directive 86/609/EEC [2] on the protection of animals used for experimental and scientific purposes.
SCHER recognises that there are promising developments towards the replacement of NHP in biomedical research. A number of alternative methods (either in vitro or using other animal species) have been developed and implemented over the last decade. However, based on the available scientific evidence, SCHER concludes that at present, for many areas of biomedical research, there are no valid alternatives which would allow for a discontinuation in the use of NHP. Moreover, a specific timetable for the complete replacement of NHP use is difficult to predict. Based on the available science, the total replacement of NHP in many areas of use, either by other animal species or by non-animal methods, is unlikely to be achieved in the foreseeable future.
SCHER recommends advancing the “Three Rs [3]” concept in the use of NHPs in research. Other SCHER recommendations include; developing validated alternative methods to the use of NHPs; investments and activities encouraging the use of other non-primate species or genetically modified rodents where possible; developing the use of new accessible technologies in order to refine experimental procedures on NHPs (e.g. non-invasive procedures such as imaging and biocompatible implants). Finally, the Committee recommends the development of accessible and comprehensive databases and collaborative users' networks (e.g. on data sharing, tissue sharing, alternative to animal models).


The SCHER opinion can be found at:

[1] Notably, the safety assessment of pharmaceuticals, infectious diseases, neuroscience research, xenotransplantation
[2] OJLSSS, 18.12.1986
[3] Three Rs: Reduction (use of fewer animals), Replacement (alternative methods that replace animal testing) and Refinement (methods which cause least harm to the animals)