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Monkey-based Research on Human Disease: The Implications of Genetic Differences

November 01, 2014 Bailey, J. (2014). Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA), Vol. 42, Issue 5.
Monkey-based Research on Human Disease: The Implications of Genetic Differences

Summary — Assertions that the use of monkeys to investigate human diseases is valid scientifically are frequently based on a reported 90–93% genetic similarity between the species. Critical analyses of the relevance of monkey studies to human biology, however, indicate that this genetic similarity does not result in sufficient physiological similarity for monkeys to constitute good models for research, and that monkey data do not translate well to progress in clinical practice for humans. Salient examples include the failure of new drugs in clinical trials, the highly different infectivity and pathology of SIV/HIV, and poor extrapolation of research on Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and stroke. The major molecular differences underlying these inter-species phenotypic disparities have been revealed by comparative genomics and molecular biology — there are key differences in all aspects of gene expression and protein function, from chromosome and chromatin structure to post-translational modification. The collective effects of these differences are striking, extensive and widespread, and they show that the superficial similarity between human and monkey genetic sequences is of little benefit for biomedical research. The extrapolation of biomedical data from monkeys to humans is therefore highly unreliable, and the use of monkeys must be considered of questionable value, particularly given the breadth and potential of alternative methods of enquiry that are currently available to scientists.

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