Why Puerto Rico is essential to medical research

When it comes to medical research and the advancement of disease treatment, Puerto Rico stands out for a very special reason. On an isolated Puerto Rican island there exists a large group of rhesus monkeys, and these monkeys may hold valuable clues in the understanding of human learning problems and neurological disorders. Rhesus monkeys are not unique to Puerto Rico, nor are they even native to the region. The monkey group was brought over 75 years ago from India to Cayo Santiago, a small island off the coast. What makes the monkeys so special, according to a report from UPI, is that they have been isolated from all other primate groups since their relocation. What’s more, they flourish on the island, and the population is healthy and rarely exposed to disease. SEE ALSO: Puerto Rican depression rates can be alarming “In fact, this population is unique in the world because we have the purest monkey that can exist since they have not crossbred with any other species,” Angelina Ruiz, CPRC associate director, told EFE. Ruiz is part of an international team of experts who have been observing the rhesus monkeys in Puerto Rico in an attempt to better understand the neural processes involved with decision-making. Rhesus monkeys have been vital to human research due to their similarities to humans–especially cognitively–and over the last five years, significant advancements have been made in areas related to human cognitive function as a direct result of monkey research. In 2011, for example, researchers from the University of Buffalo found rhesus monkeys exhibited self-awareness, something many other animals lack. Self-awareness noted in the study indicated monkeys could self-regulate their mental state, not only maintaining emotions but also understanding that certain actions had consequences. “This suggests that the monkeys, like humans, have some understanding of self agency,” said study lead Justin J. Couchman in a press release at the time. “This awareness or implicit sense that it is ‘me’ who is presently executing a bodily movement or thinking thoughts is an important form of self-awareness. Mirror self-recognition is developmentally delayed in autistic children and absent in many who are mentally retarded, have Alzheimer’s disease or are schizophrenic. It is not clear why this deficit occurs, but like rhesus monkeys,” he said, “these groups may simply have biases against mirrors.” Ruiz and Couchman, like many other scientists, hope that rhesus monkeys may one day help prevent and treat conditions like autism that are becoming more prevalent among the human population. Because the monkeys in Puerto Rico are so genetically pure, they offer experts the best human-like model to study. Of course, animal research remains a hot topic when it comes to animal rights. The rhesus monkeys in Puerto Rico are primarily monitored in their natural habitat though they are taken for laboratory study as well. Laboratories in the United States must operate under the Animal Welfare Act, which states: “provisions[ must be made] to address the social needs of nonhuman primates of species known to exist in social groups in nature.” This means monkeys that live in social groups must be granted some form of social interactions in a laboratory setting as a means of maintaining mental well-being. The Humane Society explains that research monkeys are housed in a manner that prevents them from harming themselves or other monkeys around them, which may mean they are isolated from one another if the situation warrants it. For this reason, monkey behavior, such as that associated with Ruiz’s research, is often best observed in a natural setting. Puerto Rico is ideal for this, given the off-shore island where rhesus monkeys live is small and easily navigated. SEE ALSO: Why are autism rates among minorities underrepresented? At the current time, the Peurto Rican rhesus monkey population stands at approximately 1,200 primates. Since the monkeys’ introduction 75 years ago, more than 11,000 monkeys from the island have been observed or been utilized as a part of medical research. Though invaluable to research by some standards, there is a movement in the European Union to prevent wild monkeys from being taken and used in a laboratory setting.The post Why Puerto Rico is essential to medical research appeared first on Voxxi.

Puerto Rico has a colony of genetically pure rhesus monkeys. (Shutterstock)

When it comes to medical research and the advancement of disease treatment, Puerto Rico stands out for a very special reason. On an isolated Puerto Rican island there exists a large group of rhesus monkeys, and these monkeys may hold valuable clues in the understanding of human learning problems and neurological disorders.

Rhesus monkeys are not unique to Puerto Rico, nor are they even native to the region. The monkey group was brought over 75 years ago from India to Cayo Santiago, a small island off the coast. What makes the monkeys so special, according to a report from UPI, is that they have been isolated from all other primate groups since their relocation. What’s more, they flourish on the island, and the population is healthy and rarely exposed to disease.

SEE ALSO: Puerto Rican depression rates can be alarming

“In fact, this population is unique in the world because we have the purest monkey that can exist since they have not crossbred with any other species,” Angelina Ruiz, CPRC associate director, told EFE.

Ruiz is part of an international team of experts who have been observing the rhesus monkeys in Puerto Rico in an attempt to better understand the neural processes involved with decision-making. Rhesus monkeys have been vital to human research due to their similarities to humans–especially cognitively–and over the last five years, significant advancements have been made in areas related to human cognitive function as a direct result of monkey research.

In 2011, for example, researchers from the University of Buffalo found rhesus monkeys exhibited self-awareness, something many other animals lack. Self-awareness noted in the study indicated monkeys could self-regulate their mental state, not only maintaining emotions but also understanding that certain actions had consequences.

“This suggests that the monkeys, like humans, have some understanding of self agency,” said study lead Justin J. Couchman in a press release at the time. “This awareness or implicit sense that it is ‘me’ who is presently executing a bodily movement or thinking thoughts is an important form of self-awareness. Mirror self-recognition is developmentally delayed in autistic children and absent in many who are mentally retarded, have Alzheimer’s disease or are schizophrenic. It is not clear why this deficit occurs, but like rhesus monkeys,” he said, “these groups may simply have biases against mirrors.”

Ruiz and Couchman, like many other scientists, hope that rhesus monkeys may one day help prevent and treat conditions like autism that are becoming more prevalent among the human population. Because the monkeys in Puerto Rico are so genetically pure, they offer experts the best human-like model to study.

Monkey behind fence
Despite being valued for research, wild monkeys may eventually be protected from laboratory use. (Shutterstock)

Of course, animal research remains a hot topic when it comes to animal rights. The rhesus monkeys in Puerto Rico are primarily monitored in their natural habitat though they are taken for laboratory study as well. Laboratories in the United States must operate under the Animal Welfare Act, which states: “provisions[ must be made] to address the social needs of nonhuman primates of species known to exist in social groups in nature.” This means monkeys that live in social groups must be granted some form of social interactions in a laboratory setting as a means of maintaining mental well-being.

The Humane Society explains that research monkeys are housed in a manner that prevents them from harming themselves or other monkeys around them, which may mean they are isolated from one another if the situation warrants it. For this reason, monkey behavior, such as that associated with Ruiz’s research, is often best observed in a natural setting. Puerto Rico is ideal for this, given the off-shore island where rhesus monkeys live is small and easily navigated.

SEE ALSO: Why are autism rates among minorities underrepresented?

At the current time, the Peurto Rican rhesus monkey population stands at approximately 1,200 primates. Since the monkeys’ introduction 75 years ago, more than 11,000 monkeys from the island have been observed or been utilized as a part of medical research. Though invaluable to research by some standards, there is a movement in the European Union to prevent wild monkeys from being taken and used in a laboratory setting.

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The post Why Puerto Rico is essential to medical research appeared first on Voxxi.