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Public Health

The need for non-human primates in biomedical research, production and testing of products and devices (update 2017)

Non-human primates are used in medical research because of their similarities to human beings. Results from research on non-human primates can often be applied to humans, and scientists have learned much about diseases, disorders, prevention and treatments for both humans and animals. Using animals that are so similar to humans, however, raises serious ethical concerns, which is why the use of non-human primates is monitored and strictly regulated. Animal testing for cosmetics was entirely banned in the European Union in March of 2013, and much also has been done to specifically safeguard non-human primates: non-human primates used for research, for example, can no longer be obtained from the wild unless the objectives of the study specifically requires the use of wild-caught; and the use of great apes has been prohibited. As long as non-human primates continue to be used for medical research, the European Commission strongly advocates the "3Rs principle", now a legal obligation embedded in the EU legislation to: Replace non-human primates with viable alternatives whenever feasible, Reduce the use of non-human primates and Refine scientific procedures and the care and treatment of the animals. This Opinion is an update of the 2009 Opinion and addresses issues specifically related to implementing the "3Rs principle".



1.1. What is the purpose of this new 2017 Opinion?

This Opinion highlights the many scientific approaches that could significantly contribute to the replacement, reduction and refinement of non-human primate studies and tests and specifically answers six questions relevant to this that were posed by the European Commission. It provides an update of the 2009 Opinion on the same topic and includes many recommendations to help further replace the use of non-human primates in research, to reduce the number of animals used and to refine the procedures used and the treatment and care of the animals.

1.2. What issues are specifically addressed in the updated 2017 Opinion?

The request from the European Commission included six main questions to be addressed, which are each summarized both briefly and in more detail in this web summary. There is also an easy-to-read factsheet on this Opinion intended for the general public. For complete information, including a much more in-depth discussion about the scientific rationale for using non-human primates for each research and study area, please refer to the full text of the Opinion.

The questions addressed in this 2017 Opinion are:

  1. In which areas of research non-human primates continue to be used today?
  2. Are there alternatives to the use of non-human primates in research and safety testing?
  3. When non-human primates cannot be replaced, how could their use be reduced and refined?
  4. Can a timeline for phasing out the use of non-human primates in research and safety testing be determined?
  5. What potential implications would there be for biomedical research if the use of non-human primates were to be banned?
  6. Which research areas should be explored to help replace, reduce and refine the use of non-human primates?