The monkeys that live on this huge plot of land near a small Louisiana town are pivotal in the fight against COVID-19.
Many of the 5,000 primates at the Tulane National Research Center are destined for use in scientific research for the virus.
The facility has high-level biosafety labs and is able to handle biological threats as dangerous as anthrax.
Making it well-positioned to pivot quickly to COVID research when the pandemic hit.
Here’s Skip Bohm, associate director and chief veterinary medical officer at the Tulane center:
“Non-human primates are really critical for us to understand not only the disease and how it affects the organism, but also to compare treatments, therapies, vaccinations in their effect on on that disease manifestation and assure not only that they work, which is efficacy, but make sure that they’re safe.”
Most of the primates are rhesus macaques, which are the primate species most commonly used for scientific research.
They make up the majority of the center’s breeding colony – and the 200 adult animals used in coronavirus experiments over the last year.
One COVID-19-related study by the center found that older individuals with a high body mass index, and more severe COVID-19 infection, exhaled more respiratory droplets.
That allowed them to become so-called “super-spreaders”.
Future work at the center includes studying “long COVID” – the incidence of one in 10 diagnosed patients remaining unwell long after their infection.
The facility coordinates the COVID-19 work of seven U.S. primate research centres.
Center director Jay Rappaport:”…with the network that we have and the coordinating center and the way the primate centers are working together, we can compare one treatment to another. They won’t be like apples and oranges. We will be able to do things very in the same way, OK, and be able to compare one treatment to another and determine which treatments are best. So I think we’re going to have an enormous impact on the future of therapeutics, also in vaccines.”
Once experiments are over, the Tulane center euthanizes the monkeys for tissue collection.
That allows researchers to study COVID-19’s impact beyond the respiratory system.
The use of animals for testing has been criticized by animal rights groups like PETA, who argue the primates wouldn’t have to be killed if they weren’t used for the research.