Demand for a monkey commonly used in health research is higher than ever, but scientists say a shortage of the animal is stalling their search for cures, including research into HIV treatments and vaccines. The rhesus macaque monkey has long been a lab favorite because its physiology is similar to humans. But increased demand caused by such public health crises as AIDS and the threat of bioterrorism have led to the shortage that's slowed research and has scientists paying up to $10,000 per animal.
Ruth Ruprecht of Harvard Medical School had to slow down her AIDS research because of the shortage. Ruprecht and Judy Lieberman are working on a promising oral AIDS vaccine but had to wait a year for a National Institutes of Health grant big enough to buy, house, and study 86 rhesus monkeys, at a cost of $400,000, in the first year of their $12 million project. The shortage "is slowing down AIDS research; there's no doubt about it," Ruprecht said. It may even get worse, scientists said. The NIH is handing out $1.4 billion in new grants for research into bioterrorism agents, including anthrax. That growing field could have as great an impact as the AIDS crisis, which increased demand for monkeys by about 30%.