The Texas Biomedical Research Institute inaugurated a new facility this week that will allow them to breed more non-human primates for medical research amid a nationwide animal shortage.

The four-building complex, including an 18,000-foot animal care building, will be part of the Southwest National Primate Research Center.

“This is a huge project for Texas Biomed,” said SNPRC director Deepak Kaushal.

Kaushal said the current facility, which is home to around 2,500 non-human primates, needs an upgrade and the additional space will allow them to raise even more animals.

“This building, when built, will be a modern building that will allow us to house between 800 and 1,000 additional non-human primates,” Kaushal said.

The breeding program is important, Kaushal pointed out, because there is a severe shortage of non-human primates for research in the United States, including baboons, marmosets and, more specifically, rhesus monkeys, which are ideal. to study infectious diseases like HIV and COVID. -19.

The federal government is also concerned about the shortage, according to the science journal “Nature,” and the National Institutes of Health have invested millions of dollars this summer in breeding programs, with the intention of investing dozens of dollars. millions more. More than $ 4 million has gone to Texas Biomed to increase its population of rhesus monkeys, which Kaushal says have been essential in the country’s fight against COVID-19.

“Some of these monkeys were vaccinated with several Pfizer mRNA vaccines, and we found that these Pfizer vaccines were very effective,” Kaushal said. “Then one of them was finally in our arms. Millions of people received it.

The animals at Texas Biomed were also used to study Regeneron, the monoclonal antibody therapy given to former President Trump when he had COVID-19.

Bonnie petrie

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Texas Public Radio

The Texas Biomedical Research Institute inaugurated a new facility this week that will allow them to breed more non-human primates for medical research amid a nationwide animal shortage.

But animal research is controversial and animal rights activists say it is unnecessary and cruel.

Heath Nevill is the Laboratory Director of the Behavioral Services Unit at the Southwest National Primate Research Center. He looks after the psychological health and welfare of the SNPRC primates. While leading a short bus tour through the primate center, he pointed out the balls and other toys that clutter the baboons’ enclosures, claiming that baboons love to chew and that is what toys are there for.

“The balls, cones and stuff that you see would be considered physical enrichment. There is (also) nutritional enrichment, professional enrichment, sensory enrichment and social enrichment.

Later in the tour, Nevill pointed out what he called the chimpanzee playground.

“It may not seem obvious, but everything up to the roof of this compound has been designed for a purpose,” he said.

Nevill is excited about the new animal care facility.

“For animals this will be a great, state-of-the-art facility, and for biomedical research as a whole, it will provide more quality research topics for biomedical research.”

Because it’s not a zoo. It is, ultimately, a research center, where animals are intentionally sickened by diseases that scientists want to study, and where drugs and vaccines are tested on them. It is a research center where many of them die from these diseases.

SNPRC Director Deepak Kaushal understands that some people vehemently object to their establishment even existing, but he says they take very good care of the animals there.

“We work in a very ethical manner. We are very ethically and very strictly regulated by regulatory bodies that will not allow us to harm our animals, ”Kaushal said, adding,“ Every step we take in our daily lives has benefited from animal research. In neonatal medicine, in infectious diseases. , in cardiovascular (care), the direct work that has been done here on non-human primates has absolutely saved lives. “

Kaushal added that this new animal care complex – which will be completed in early 2023 – will not only benefit researchers and those suffering from diseases and in need of treatment, it will also benefit the animals that live there.

Dr. Akudo Anyanwu, vice president of development at Texas Biomed, agreed that the expansion of the animal care complex and other planned improvements at Texas Biomed will benefit everyone.

“Everything we build is for the health of the community here in San Antonio, (Texas) nationally and globally,” Anyanwu said. “Why? Because we are working on infectious diseases and as we all know, it is a problem that affects all levels of society.”