Washington National Primate Research Center

Facts about the Center

What is the Center's history?

The Center received its first operating grant award in 1961 and is one of the seven U.S. centers in the National Primate Research Center Program established by Congress in 1959 in order to provide specialized resources for nonhuman primate research studies that are applicable to human health.

How is the Center affiliated with the University of Washington?

The Center is an integral department of the University of Washington (UW), affiliated with the Schools of Medicine, Public Health, affiliated research centers and the University of Washington Medical Center.

Where is the Center located?

The Center is headquartered in the Warren G. Magnuson Health Sciences Center on the UW campus in Seattle Washington, with an additional leased facility at South Lake Union in metropolitan Seattle.

What is the Center's relationship with the National Institute of Health?

The Center operates in core facilities that are supported by the NIH Office of the Director. Specifically, all NPRCs reside within the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI) in the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (ORIP).

What are the Center's specialties?

The Center has a research staff of nationally and internationally prominent scientists led by our Core Staff scientists and over 400 affiliate scientists. These Core Scientists are also UW faculty members in the following departments:

  • Anthropology
  • Bioengineering
  • Biological Structure
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Global Health
  • Immunology
  • Laboratory Medicine
  • Medical Genetics
  • Microbiology
  • Obstetrics & Gynecology
  • Oncology
  • Pathology
  • Pharmaceutics
  • Physiology & Biophysics
  • Psychology

What is the focus of the Center's research?

The Center conducts research that touches virtually every field of nonhuman primate biology and medicine with particular focus on the neurobiological sciences, AIDS-related research, reproductive and developmental sciences, genomics, immunogenetics, nonhuman primate models for human diseases, international outreach and conservation, and the psychological well-being needs of its colonies. The Center participates in biomedical research activities that supports the NIH initiative to accelerate the translation of basic discoveries into improved therapies and medical care.

Is the Center accredited?

The Center has achieved Continued Full Accreditation through AAALAC International as part of the Animal Program at the University of Washington.

Q&A 'About Dr. Basso'

What is her area of research?

Dr. Michele A. Basso has dedicated her career to helping advance our understanding of the brain. She is committed to the ethical use of animals in biomedical and behavioral research to help understand how the brain works with the goal of alleviating the suffering faced by millions of patients and families around the globe.  Basso’s research program is aimed at understanding brain circuitry that gives rise to cognitive ability that impacts choices of action. Work in her laboratory recently revealed a novel decision-making impairment in people with Parkinson’s disease. Based on their recent findings, Basso’s team is developing a monkey model of the decision-making impairment, to better understand the brain circuits involved and to better understand the relationship between cognitive and motor impairment in Parkinson’s disease. Cognitive impairment is a significant issue affecting people with Parkinson’s disease and Dr. Basso’s work toward unraveling these brain circuits, is a step toward bringing us closer to understanding and eventually treating cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease.

What is her background?

Dr. Basso studied Psychology and Neuroscience at Stony Brook University, where her interest in Parkinson’s disease began and where she received her Ph.D. for work studying blink reflex abnormalities using a rodent model of Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Basso’s findings laid the groundwork for understanding the brain circuits responsible for involuntary eyelid spasms called blepharospasm. After receiving her Ph.D., she was a post-doctoral fellow at the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). At NIH Dr. Basso expanded her work to uncover brain mechanisms of decision-making in nonhuman primates. Discoveries based on her research at the NIH helped us understand that areas of the brain involved in eye movements also play a role in cognition.

Basso’s first faculty appointment was at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she continued her exploration of the relationship between eye movements and decision-making in monkeys and rodents. She was then recruited to join the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she directed the Fuster Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience. At UCLA her work continued to focus on foundational neuroscientific problems, and expanded to include patient populations with Parkinson’s disease and Dystonia.

How will she support WaNPRC?

Basso is committed to the growth and sustainability of WaNPRC. As a highly respected member of the scientific community, Basso brings her impressive experience and expertise to this key leadership role at the University of Washington. She served on many scientific panels that advise the government and private foundations. She also served her field’s major scientific organization, the Society for Neuroscience, notably as chair of the Society’s Ethics committee. She is a recognized expert in the field of primate research and the ethical use of animals in research, publishing papers on the topic and serving as a member of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees at the University of Wisconsin and UCLA, and as the Chair of the Animal Care Program Advisory Committee at UCLA. Basso is committed to openness and transparency regarding scientific research with animals, especially nonhuman primates.

We are hearing some controversy around hiring Dr. Basso – was the UW aware of this?

Dr. Basso is the target of misinformation campaigns by some who oppose animal research. The University of Washington and WaNPRC were, of course, aware of the issues, and are confident that they did not represent any cause for concern about the recruitment of this talented individual. Although scientists continue to develop alternatives to animal testing, we firmly believe that with our current state of knowledge, there are no replacements for the essential and foundational discoveries made possible using animal models, including Basso’s important work with rodents and monkeys. Like her colleagues at the University of Washington and around the world, Basso is fully committed to the ethical, responsible and humane treatment of laboratory animals in this and all other areas of biomedical research.

Media Coverage FAQs

What is the University and WaNPRC’s response to the recent news coverage about the breeding facility in Mesa, Arizona?

Claims appearing in recent media reports are meritless or are misleading due to the omission of important contextual information.

How does WaNPRC respond to claims that the WaNPRC broke interstate transport laws and failed to notify the Washington Department of Agriculture that any of the monkeys were infected with Valley fever?

We acknowledge that we made an administrative error and are aware that we are required to contact the Washington Department of Agriculture. We missed this during an internal transfer of some of our animals from our Arizona facility to our Seattle facility. This oversight, although unfortunate, did not result in any negative outcomes as a result of the shipment, and this process has been corrected moving forward.

What about the claims that the Arizona breeding facility animals all have Valley Fever, among many other diseases?

Valley Fever (VF) is a fungal disease found in arid regions of the world including the Southwestern United States. Similar to humans and pets, nonhuman primates can become exposed to VF and develop a positive antibody titer. In Arizona, as a preventative measure, all animals that test positive receive daily treatments. A very small percentage of these animals (<1%) develop clinical symptoms related to Valley Fever and are treated appropriately by our Veterinarians.
Nonhuman primates, like humans, are susceptible to a variety of diseases. We can assure you that if any of our animals ever become ill, we provide prompt and decisive intervention to ensure they return to good health as soon as is possible. All animals receive regular medical examinations, including the surveillance for Valley Fever, by qualified veterinarians and have detailed,  well-characterized health records. Based on the health histories of animals, individual researchers determine if a particular animal is suitable for their research.

Does this disqualify them for use in research?

No. Animals bred at the Arizona breeding facility are screened by qualified veterinarians who work together with researchers to develop protocols and identify animals that best fulfill the needs of the study and the questions being addressed.  Some study designs may need to incorporate exclusion criteria such as age, weight, genetics, prior treatments or health history. However, in most studies, these variables are included in the study design and then balanced between study groups to better model the diversity one finds in the human population. In contrast to mice that provide only limited insight into human disease, nonhuman primates have diverse anatomies, physiologies and immune systems that mirror the diversity we see in humans. This is one of the reasons they are considered the best model to study human infections and other diseases and to develop new therapeutics or vaccines. The heterogenous nonhuman primate species available at the Arizona breeding facility models the diverse human population and studies performed with these animals have had significant impact in understanding human disease and in developing new treatments and vaccines.

Can you address the claims that chemical runoff called perchlorates from a missile manufacturer near the Mesa facility taints the Arizona monkey colony's water supply?

The water consumed by our animals in Arizona is pre-treated with low levels of chlorine and is clean, just as is the water that the people in this area drink. Our animals are neither exposed to, nor consume contaminated water. Perchlorates appear in water naturally, particularly in arid regions such as the southwestern U.S. and also can be found as a byproduct of hypochlorite solutions used for treating drinking water and nitrate salts used to produce fertilizers. The Arizona facility utilizes groundwater from an on-site well which is monitored for a number of factors, including perchlorates, on a quarterly basis to ensure that the water our animals receive is clean and safe. The well water testing has consistently shown that the water is safe for human and animal consumption.

Questions about the Video

How are nonhuman primates socialized at WaNPRC?

At WaNPRC we have a dedicated behavioral management team that works closely with our veterinary and husbandry teams to provide the best possible care for our animals.

  • Social housing is the DEFAULT housing condition for ALL animals.
  • We maintain socialization rates of at least 80% or higher each month. This means that the majority of our non-exempted animals are socially housed each month.
  • There are very important reasons why an animal may be singly housed for a period of time, which include:
    • Experimental reasons which require an approved Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) exemption that includes scientific justification.
    • Clinical reasons which requires an approved veterinary exemption.
  • Rationale for all singly housed animals is reviewed every 30 days by the Attending Veterinarian, as required by federal law.
  • Singly-housed animals receive extra enrichment in addition to standard daily enrichment.

What about the videos posted online?

The video posted on extremist websites pertaining to animals at the WaNPRC at the University of Washington were produced between 2012 and 2013. Between 2012 and 2017, four National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) participated in a joint research project focused on improving captive primate well-being by collecting and assessing temperament data based on an animal’s response to novel stimuli.

Understanding temperament can lead to better individualized care and improved animal welfare. It can indicate how an animal might respond to research procedures, personnel, social interactions, positive reinforcement training, or novel enrichment.

What was the data collection process like?

  • The temperament assessments were recorded on video so that they could be scored by the same individuals thereby reducing potential observer bias.
  • During the assessment, an unfamiliar person stood in front of the animals’ home cage for several minutes to see how they responded.
  • Animals that were socially housed were temporarily separated from their partners, allowing each animal to be evaluated individually.
  • Social pairs were reunited the same day, once the data for that room was collected.

What information did we gather?

  • Some animals were unfazed by the presence of the unfamiliar person while others changed their behavior.
  • The variation in the responses gives us insight into each animal’s temperament.

The overarching goal of this research project and the philosophy of WaNPRC is to ensure a safe and enriching environment that supports the psychological well-being of the animal and the integrity of scientific data.