London, May 16 : Monkeys have long been used as an alternative to humans for various experimental studies, and now a new review has backed the concept by claiming that non-human primates will continue to be a significant, if small, part of neuroscience research.
In the review, researchers at California National Primate Research Center have said that studies dealing with non-human primates have greatly helped their understanding of the brain and will continue to be an important, if small, part of neuroscience research.
The researchers believe that the role of non-human primates in studies of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, neurological complications of AIDS and stress is very important.
"The key contribution of these studies is based on the similarities between the brains of humans and those of non-human primates," Lancet quoted John P. Capitanio, UC Davis and associate director of the California National Primate Research Center, as saying.
One can easily see that the organisation and structure of Human and monkey brains is quite similar and that the animals display human like complex behaviour.
But, according to Capitanio, the number of animals used will always be limited owing to various complicating factors, like the financial expense, ethical issues and the relative difficulty involving the breeding, which is different from other model animals such as rodents.
He further added that all animal models do have their strengths and limitations, but animal models can help researchers understand body systems in the same way as a model building helps engineers and architects understand how a structure will work.
He explained it by giving example of the drug MPTP, which was first synthesized in an illegal drug laboratory and led to symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease in both humans and monkeys, but not in rats or mice, which lack a crucial enzyme.
And now, the researchers are studying monkeys treated with MPTP in order to have a better understanding of new treatments for Parkinson's disease, the second most common neurodegenerative disease in people over 65.
"A model is not the real thing, but it can help you understand the real thing," said Capitanio.
The study is published in the British medical journal, The Lancet.