Experimental Monkeys

We wish we could say that humans made technological and medical advancements all on our own. But the truth is, every surviving human on Earth can thank the contributions of lab animals. From mice colonies to rats to rabbits to dogs to rhesus macaque monkeys, experiments and drug trials rely on these animals to get them past the first few phases before humans are ever tested on. In this newsletter, we’ll take a look at the contributions of the rhesus monkey to human advancement.

macaque skull necklace in sterling silver

Why Rhesus Monkeys?

Whenever you see “in vitro” in a science article, this usually means that the experiment was done on cells in a petri dish or tube. While these types of studies can give us some insight into the effectiveness of a new drug, it doesn’t really tell us how a living organism, complete with an immune system and organ systems, will react. An article that uses the word “in vivo” means that the tests were conducted on living organisms. Rhesus monkeys are both anatomically and physiologically similar to humans. So, after the mice, rats, and rabbits are used, monkeys are up next.

Rabies Vaccine

A lot of vaccines were developed with the help of the rhesus monkeys, but let’s go straight to one of the most terrifying diseases out there, with almost a 100% mortality rate – rabies. If you’ve read the book or seen the movie “Old Yeller”, you know that there is no cure for this disease. People and animals who are bitten experience strange and terrifying neurological symptoms such as hydrophobia (fear of water), hallucinations, seizures, horrible anxiety, and eventually death. But thanks to the lung cells of a rhesus monkey, researchers were able to grow the rabies virus, inactivate it, and give it to people and animals (pets). Even after someone is bitten, this vaccine still works to prevent the virus from taking root and spreading.

Polio and HIV

Other terrible diseases we have overcome or are overcoming are polio and HIV. Before the polio vaccine, the words “iron lung” were used a lot more often. Thanks to the rhesus monkeys and their kidney cells, scientists were able to grow the poliovirus and eventually, develop a vaccine. The drugs used for HIV treatment, antiretroviral drugs, were tested on rhesus monkeys. In fact, these animals were one of the model organisms that we have been using for the last 40 years to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Monkeys Today

Even today, monkeys are used in labs all over the world. Everything from chemotherapy drugs to painkillers and even the coronavirus vaccine were tested on rhesus monkeys. You can think of the macaque monkey skull necklace as sort of an homage to this crucial creature in the research world. Buy it for yourself or for a friend. It also makes a great gift for researchers everywhere, vaccine developers, immunologists, and starry-eyed research interns.

written by Science with Evie


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