SAN ANTONIO (May 31, 2023) — Texas Biomed’s Southwest National Primate Research Center announced today the renewal of a $10 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to support a rhesus macaque colony dedicated to HIV/AIDS research.
The U42 grant, which is spread over four years, will support the ongoing care and growth of the HIV/AIDS research colony from 800 to 1,000 animals.
“This colony has been with SNPRC since 2000 and has played crucial roles in supporting hundreds of studies into HIV/AIDS mechanisms, treatments and vaccines,” says current SNPRC Director Corinna Ross, PhD. “We are grateful for NIH’s continued support of this valuable resource. This grant will help us strategically grow the colony to help meet the needs of AIDS researchers nationwide, which is especially important as we face an acute shortage of nonhuman primates for biomedical research.”
The macaques in this colony are especially important for HIV/AIDS research for several reasons: they are free from specific pathogens, such as herpes B virus and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the monkey equivalent of HIV; they have extremely well-documented genetics and are carefully bred to maximize genetic diversity. This all helps make them robust models for studying complex, full-body responses to a potential vaccine or therapy.
While as much research as possible is done in cells and small animal models, before a treatment or vaccine can be given to people, its safety and efficacy must be evaluated in nonhuman primates. Every study is scrutinized to ensure as few animals are used as possible, while still providing enough data to draw important conclusions.
The U.S. already faced a shortfall of nonhuman primates for research prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic made things worse as many animals were needed to help evaluate COVID mechanisms, treatments and vaccines. Additionally, China stopped exporting nonhuman primates during the pandemic, cutting off one of the main sources of research animals.
The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a report on the current status and future needs of nonhuman primates in biomedical research in May, following a year-long review.
“The report says the U.S. needs to prioritize expansion of domestic nonhuman primate breeding programs. Relying on importing these animals from other countries is unsustainable, and dependence on international sources undermines the security of the nation’s biomedical research enterprise,” a National Academies press release states.
SNPRC is one of seven National Primate Research Centers dedicated to managing breeding colonies and nonhuman primate research for the nation. SNPRC hosts several different nonhuman primate species, including baboons, macaques and marmosets, which support research in a wide variety of diseases in addition to HIV/AIDS, including diabetes, obesity, cancer, hepatitis, tuberculosis and COVID-19. Texas Biomed is in the process of building a new Animal Care Complex, which will help SNPRC expand its colonies.
“Our team of more than 150 caretakers, behavioralists, veterinarians and technicians are committed to providing the very best care and life for our animals,” Dr. Ross says. “We are proud to help address the need for nonhuman primates in research, but know additional investment will be required if we are to meaningfully overcome the shortage identified by the National Academies.”
Funding Acknowledgements: This release describes funding provided by the The Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health under award number U42OD010442. The Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health also provides core funding for SNPRC under award number P51OD011133.