Yerkes National Primate Research Center
The Yerkes Center comprises two facilities. The main center on the Emory University campus hosts biomedical research across a variety of disciplines, and a 117-acre field station in Lawrenceville handles both breeding and behavioral studies of social groups in a naturalistic environment. The main center houses approximately 1,300 nonhuman primates; the satellite station houses around 2,300. Seven species of nonhuman primates are studied at Yerkes. This diversity of species is maintained because different types of primates best model certain human diseases or social behaviors. In addition, the center holds around 5,000 rodents.
By the 1950s laboratory maintenance and the travel required from New Haven proved impractical for researchers. Thus in 1956, after Yerkes's death, Yale University arranged for Emory to take ownership of Yerkes Research Center. During this decade, American physicians visited a Soviet laboratory conducting cardiac studies with primates. The U.S. doctors were impressed with this success in
In 1960 Congress empowered the NIH to provide specialized resources for scientists working with primates. Over the next few years, the NIH dedicated seven existing facilities as Regional Primate Research Centers; Emory's Yerkes Center was among them. With federal funding, Emory was able to construct both the main campus and the field station. The Yerkes Regional Primate Center moved to Georgia in 1965. In 2002 the center was renamed the Yerkes National Primate Research Center by the NIH.
Mission and Research
Yerkes's scientists have contributed to the understanding of the AIDS virus and are working to develop vaccines against it and other devastating infectious diseases. Researchers in neuroscience have made discoveries in the areas of cognitive decline, Parkinson's disease, psychiatric illnesses, and drug addiction that have led to improved treatments for these problems. Behavioral studies continue to provide information on social and physiological issues. Vision studies yield information on both visual disorders and motor coordination.
Controversy and Care
Nonhuman primate medical research supplies a crucial link between small-animal research and clinical trials in human medicine. But the similarities that make research on nonhuman primates important also make comparative testing on them controversial. Some organizations allege cruelty to research subjects; the noted primatologist Jane Goodall has been an outspoken critic of conditions at captive research centers, including Yerkes. The Yerkes Center recognizes concerns regarding the use of primates and abides by strict protocols. Emory's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee reports to all regulatory agencies and ensures strict compliance with the federal Animal Welfare Act, which provides ethical guidelines and sets humane standards for every aspect of care at each stage of a research animal's life. The independent Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International has granted the center full accreditation.
The Yerkes National Primate Research Center continues to advance science and clinical treatments in such areas as organ transplants, genetic models and predictors of illness, and infectious disease, among others.
Deborah Blum, The Monkey Wars (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
W. Richard Dukelow and Leo A. Whitehair, "A Brief History of the Regional Primate Research Centers," Comparative Pathology Bulletin 27, no. 3 (1995): 1-2.
Robert M. Yerkes, "Autobiography of Robert Mearns Yerkes," in History of Psychology in Autobiography, vol. 2, ed. C. Murchison (Worcester, Mass.: Clark University Press, 1930).
Deborah Chasteen, Athens
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.