Why do we still need animals in research?
While some research questions may adequately be addressed using cell cultures, tissue studies or computer models, which we also employ at Texas Biomedical Research Institute and the Southwest National Primate Research Center, research with animals continues to be critical for the advancement of human health. Disease processes are typically complex, involving multiple physiological processes and multiple organ systems that simply require the use of nonhuman primate models.
Virtually every major advance in medical knowledge and treatment has involved research using animal models.
Animal research has saved lives, extended life expectancy, and improved the quality of life for both humans and animals by enabling scientists to conduct critical experiments that identified ways to prevent, treat, and cure disease.
How did the baboons escape and from where?
On the afternoon of April 14 four baboons left their enclosure, and three of them breached perimeter fencing around the Institute. One baboon returned to the enclosure soon after leaving. The remaining three baboons were captured by SNPRC’s highly-skilled animal capture team within 20-30 minutes of leaving their enclosure.
The baboons are housed in an open air enclosure that is surrounded by perimeter walls that fold inward to preclude the animals from jumping out. This enclosure has been used for more than 35 years. The animal care staff has determined that a 55-gallon barrel, which has been in use for about eight months was in an upright position and just close enough to the wall that the animals had an opportunity to climb on one and get out of the housing structure. Upon noticing the animals on top of the enclosure, our animal care team immediately removed the barrels from the enclosure and alerted the animal capture team. Implementation of the barrels as an enrichment tool used to help mimic foraging behaviors was reviewed by the animal care team and USDA during their last inspection and found to be a valuable component of the enrichment program. However, the team has removed them from use for further assessment and modification.
Do animals escape often?
It is very rare that animals get out of their enclosure. By nature, these animals typically do not move far from their social structures. In only one other instance has a baboon breached the property of Texas Biomed, nearly two decades ago.
Why do your personnel wear masks? Are these animals infected?
The masks are to protect the nonhuman primates. Our personnel receive significant training in following proper protocols and procedures, which call for wearing face masks at all times when working near the nonhuman primates for the safety of the nonhuman primates, as they are susceptible to human disease that we do not want in the colony.
The animals in the baboon corral are not involved in infectious disease studies, as they are either in holding to be placed on a study or in our breeding program.
What type of research do you perform there?
Texas Biomedical Research Institute is a biomedical research organization focused primarily on infectious diseases with some research on chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, and neurological disorders. Our Southwest National Primate Research Center is a resource for scientists nationwide working on diseases of all kinds, including chronic diseases, autoimmune disorders, neurological disorders and more.
Nonhuman primates continue to make many life-saving contributions. At Texas Biomed, studies with premature baboons enabled researchers to refine the technique of high-frequency oscillatory ventilation, which is used to save the lives of thousands of premature babies and minimize lung damage in these children. Much of the work involved in developing a hepatitis B virus vaccine and the new hepatitis C virus treatments was conducted at Texas Biomed. Approximately 3.2 million people in the United States are living with chronic HCV, many of whom can now be treated. Nonhuman primates are providing valuable insight into the impact of the Zika virus on mothers and children, as well as hemorrhagic fever viruses, like Ebola virus that killed more than 14,000 people in the last major outbreak.
How many primates do you have on your campus?
We have about 2500 nonhuman primates, 1100 of which are baboons.
What type of housing conditions do the animals live in? Is it safe and are the animals healthy?
Texas Biomed utilizes a variety of housing structures, including the open-air corral. Almost all of the primates are housed in groups. They spend much of their time interacting socially, including grooming each other. This rich social environment is important for the well-being of all primates, and is particularly critical for developing infants.
What is animal enrichment?
The enrichment programs aim to stimulate species-typical behaviors and promote psychological well-being using social, physical, occupational, feeding and sensory enrichment opportunities, many of which mimic natural behaviors seen in the wild, which we aim to encourage.
What type of enrichment do you provide?
Structural enrichment includes items like swings, climbing structures, perches, etc. Sensory enrichment includes devices that can stimulate problem-solving behavior, motor skills and coordination. We also provide a stable, nutritionally complete diet and additional fruits, grains and vegetables to all primates. For a complete list see: http://snprc.org/primates/primate-care/
Why do the baboons live in a “barren” landscape?
The baboon corral, in particular, is an open-air environment that mimics the natural environment of the savannah. Baboons also naturally eat the vegetation of their environment, so plants that grow in the corral get eaten by the baboons, contributing to the lack of vegetation seen in the corral.
What type of care do the animals get?
Texas Biomed employs a team of eight veterinarians and a large pathology and veterinary technician staff to ensure all animals receive excellent health care. Our animal care staff performs daily rounds to observe the welfare of the animals, as well as provide nutritional enrichment. All animals receive regular well checks in addition to any emergency veterinary care that may be needed.
We care for more than 2500 animals. Unforeseen events rarely happen. We take every possible precaution to safeguard against these events and work closely with regulatory agencies to determine best practices. Texas Biomed continuously seeks to enhance care provided to the primates, for the sake of the animals and the quality of the research programs.
How long have you had monkeys?
We have been caring for primates in research since the 1950s and have been a Federally-designated National Primate Research Center since 1999. The National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) are a national network of dedicated teams fighting diseases from Alzheimer’s to Zika virus and improving human health and lives worldwide. In partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), other government organizations, private foundations and private industry, NPRCs conduct and enable studies that make breakthrough discoveries of causes, preventions, treatments and cures possible.
What kind of training/best practices do you use to make sure your care is in the animals’ best interest?
Our team of more than 200 professionals, including scientists, veterinarians, behaviorists and caretakers work closely to ensure the safety and security of our animals.
We follow all regulations provided by the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, as well as USDA/APHIS regulations. Importantly, we follow the Guide for Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, which is required for AAALAC accreditation. This is a voluntary accreditation process that assesses institutional practices and procedures to promote the humane treatment of animals in science. Texas Biomed’s SNPRC is accredited by AAALAC, and Texas Biomed has been accredited since 1972.
Every person who works with an animal receives extensive training from experienced personnel, including a dedicated training staff.
We also have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee comprised of scientists, veterinarians, and laypersons from the community who thoroughly evaluate each project; this committee must approve every research project before it begins. Texas Biomed follows the three “Rs” of animal use in biomedical research: Replacement, Reduction and Refinement. Replacement refers to using alternative methods to animals when possible. Reduction is the use of as few animals as possible on a study. And Refinement refers to refining processes and procedures that minimize pain and distress.
Why do you have USDA citations?
We have had some unique events, three of which occurred nearly a decade ago. Each case presented a separate set of circumstances, driven in large part by the fact that we provide large, rich social environments for these animals, because we believe that is the best way for them to live. When events do occur, we self-report and take immediate corrective action to ensure the safety of the animals and our staff. We have adjusted processes, training or standard operating procedures when necessary.
We care for more than 2500 animals. Unforeseen events are incredibly uncommon. We take every possible precaution to safeguard against these events and work closely with regulatory agencies to determine best practices. The Institute continuously seeks to enhance care provided to the primates, for the sake of the animals and the quality of the research programs.
USDA inspects our facility annually, and we self-report individual events to USDA immediately after taking pre-emptive corrective action. We have details of this year’s and last year’s inspection reports on our website.
Why can’t the animals go to a sanctuary?
Animals are critical to understanding biological processes. While some research questions may adequately be addressed using cell cultures, tissue studies or computer models, which we also employ at Texas Biomed and the SNPRC, research with animals continues to be critical for the advancement of human health. Texas Biomed is committed to the discovery of connections between pathogens and their host and the underlying causes of disease in an effort to develop more effective therapies, vaccines and cures. Disease processes are typically complex, involving multiple physiological processes and multiple organ systems that simply require the use of nonhuman primate models.
Texas Biomed is committed to socially housing our animals. Separating these animals from their social structures would cause great distress.
Are there any current efforts to move away from baboons as a viable animal model in biomedical research?
There are many technological advances that are enabling scientists to use fewer animals in research, but at this time, animal models still provide the best opportunity for understanding the mechanisms of disease in humans and ensuring that vaccines and therapies developed to treat disease are both safe and effective.
Does the community need to worry about its safety?
No. Texas Biomed has been working with nonhuman primates for more than 50 years. We have the experience and expertise to ensure the safety of our animals, our personnel and our community. And, we are committed to continuing our track record of being a good citizen.