Tag Archives: washington national primate research center

Part 4: Many voices speaking of animal research

We recently wrote about the many existing venues, activities, and materials designed to encourage public dialogue and informed discussion about animal research.  Many individuals, institutions, and organizations contribute to public outreach and education efforts, and also take active roles in dialogue about continuing changes in practice and policy concerning animal welfare and the conduct of animal research.  This post is the fourth in a series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) hosted by Speaking of Research to highlight a wide range of individuals and groups devoted to consideration of animal research.

The National Primate Research Centers Outreach Network

The eight National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) are riding a wave of unprecedented communication, thanks to a new National Institutes of Health/Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (NIH/ORIP) outreach consortium. This consortium helps our members work together more effectively to educate the public on our many and varied educational programs.

Reaching thousands at the USA Science and Engineering Festival

One exciting result of the new consortium occurred April 27 to April 29 this year in Washington, D.C. Representatives from the National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) spoke to an estimated 4,000 people who visited the NPRCs’ booth at the 2nd annual USA Science and Engineering Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival, which included a learning station hosted by the National Primate Research Centers, drew 150,000 people to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., this April.

Billed as “the largest celebration of science in the U.S.,” the festival featured more than 3,000 interactive exhibits, more than 100 stage shows and 33 author presentations. More than 150,000 people attended. President Barack Obama promoted the festival in keynotes and public service announcements. Special visitors to the festival included The Myth Busters and Bill Nye the Science Guy, plus Nobel Prize winners, best-selling authors, astronauts, and even a rock guitar performance by NIH Director Francis Collins.

The NPRCs’ booth featured a set of touchable and inflatable real pig lungs representing healthy and cigarette smoke-riddled lungs. Our activity not only demonstrated how smoking harms the smoker, but also helped us convey how the Primate Centers have discovered that second hand smoke can stunt infant lung development. Our interactive display also included a flip board with questions and answers about animal research and care.

Volunteers from the National Primate Research Centers educated the public about the effects of smoking on infant lung development at the 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival.

— The California NPRC outreach team spearheaded the NPRCs’ participation at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. Some of the consortium’s other recent activities   have included the following:

—  The Yerkes NPRC continues to host a booth on behalf of all of the NPRCs at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting.

— Jordana Lenon (Wisconsin NPRC) represented the consortium at a PR/Media Forum sponsored by the New Jersey Association for Biomedical Research last October in Newark, N.J.

— Consortium participants plan to meet for the first time as a group this fall.

To share updates, materials and communicate effectively with one another­ — whether we’re planning for large events such as the USA Science and Engineering Festival, or sharing news releases and other announcements — center outreach specialists, supported by the NPRC directors and consortium facilitators, use a variety of websites and other e-media tools. We heartily contribute our share to the 188 billion emails still sent every day… and we still talk on the phone. So, although we’re working in three different time zones, from one coast to the other, we feel closer than ever in our working relationships. We plan to meet for the first time as a group this fall, and we all look forward to building new partnerships when we meet.

Students, lifelong learners benefit from many engaging programs

What are some of the many other outreach activities we plan and share? For one, we are fortunate to have developed thriving visitors programs at our centers. We host year-round K-12+ programs such as afterschool programs, campus science fairs, family science nights, science Saturdays, science teachers days, and many more activities, both on site as well as at schools and community venues. A few examples follow:

The Oregon NPRC’s tour program welcomes more than 3,000 people each year. The center also provides opportunities for young scientists to experience authentic research by supporting high school students and undergraduates in labs for summer apprenticeships.

At the California NPRC, many classroom outreach activities and lectures introduce K-12 students to nonhuman primates, biomedical research programs and careers. The center offers a large curriculum and classroom resources for teachers.

The Wisconsin NPRC provides lab demos and hands on activities for middle school and high school students participating in the annual State Science Olympiad, as well in the National Science Olympiad hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison last summer.

The Yerkes NPRC promotes an  active speakers bureaus and tours of its large indoor/outdoor facility. Yerkes also sponsors an eight-week summer internship program for high school students. The center received more than 130 applications this year for 10 spots.

In addition to tours and community outreach programs, the Tulane NPRC hosts programs for college honor societies, summer scholars, biomedical students and career tech students. Every summer, the TNPRC mentors students who work with research technicians.

The Washington NPRC recently participated in a three-day science education event at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. In July, WaNPRC will again host science teachers participating in the annual CURE (Collaborations to Understand Research and Ethics) tour and seminar, a program funded by an NIH Science Education Partnership Award.

Southwest NPRC is hosting “Science Teachers Day at Texas BioMed” this summer, with bus and walking tours, demonstrations, and an “Ethics of Animal Research” panel.

More than 4,000 people participated in activities at the National Primate Research Centers’ booth over the festival’s three days at the end of April.

Specific programs for life-long learners are also growing, such as Oregon’s Road Scholar Week, and Wisconsin’s Grandparents University and College Days participation, and Yerkes’ coordination of eight-week series for two university-based life-long learning programs. In addition to coordinating active speakers bureaus that reach business, patient advocacy and other civic groups, the NPRCs’ outreach specialists themselves are also sought after as invited educational speakers at national and international conferences.

As far as outreach and higher education, most of the NPRCs are located at major research and teaching universities. They have active veterinary care training programs, in addition to offering undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral research training programs. The New England NPRC’s commitment to education is reflected in its summer programs for pre-baccalaureate and veterinary students. The Oregon, California, and Washington NPRCs host two to three dozen veterinary and vet tech students throughout the year in two-week externships.

Learn more about the National Primate Centers and other National Institutes of Health nonhuman primate resources for research starting here.

Jordana Lenon is the Public Information Officer and Outreach Specialist for the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Returning control to paralyzed limbs one nerve at a time.

A few months ago we reported on a fascinating study undertaken by Andy Schwartz and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh, who developed a brain-machine interface that when implanted into the motor cortex, the part of the brain responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movements,  of monkeys allowed then to control a robot arm with surprising precision.  This week Chet Moritz and colleagues at Washington National Primate Research Center have published another exciting paper  (1) online in the journal Nature that describes an alternative approach to the use of brain-machine interfaces to overcome paralysis.

Rather than use an implant that monitors the activity of groups of nerve cells in the motor cortex and then use complex algorithms to decode this activity and calculate appropriate control signals for external devices, the approach used by the University of Pittsburg group, Chet Moritz and colleagues used a brain implant that could detect the activity of a single nerve cell and then home in on it and measure its activity. These implants were placed in the part of the monkey motor cortex responsible for controlling the wrist muscle and used implanted wires to directly stimulate the wrist muscles using a technique known as functional electrical stimulation (FES).  Monkeys whose wrist muscles had been temporarily paralyzed by injection of anaesthetic to the nerves that control them, quickly learned to control their wrist muscles again using the brain implant-FES system. The wrist muscle movements in turn controlled the location of a cursor on a screen, and by moving the cursor to particular locations in a screen the monkeys could gain rewards in the form of a tasty snack. More surprisingly the scientists found that monkeys could also learn to use motor cortex neurons that were not normally involved in controlling the wrist muscles to control the wrist muscles.

This research has caught the attention of the mainstream press, and it’s good to see that the welcome it has received is accompanied by cautionary notes.  There’s no doubt that this is a significant advance, the Washington National Primate Research Center team have shown that a relatively simple device can be used to restore control to paralyzed muscles, but they have so far only demonstrated control of one muscle group whereas a useful limb will require the simultaneous and accurate control of many muscle groups by many nerve cells.  I’m optimistic that this won’t be as much of a problem as it may initially appear since this study, the previous work at the University of Pittsburgh, and indeed the frequently observed ability of patients with brain damage to recover lost functions, all demonstrate that the brain is surprisingly adaptable. Whether using individual nerve cells to control muscles or groups of nerve cells to control robots will prove must useful in the clinic several years down the line is impossible to say right now. It’s quite likely that elements of both techniques will be used in future systems and that he decision as to which approach should be used in an individual paralysis patient will be determined by the nature of the injury and duration of subsequent paralysis.
Several scientists involved in this work have also stressed the importance of sensory feedback, the ability of a patient to “feel” what a paralyzed or robotic limb is doing, and this is an area under investigation by several research groups that will no doubt see further advances in the coming years.  Even without the ability to feel objects, and consequently the ability to more precisely manipulate objects, I’m of the opinion that the ability to use a robotic arm, or even a patients own arm,  has the potential to greatly increase the independence of paralysis patients. For that reason I expect that we will see this technology in the clinic sooner than many people think, and will be a therapeutic advance that many paralysis patients will welcome.


Paul Browne

1) Moritz C.T., Perlmutter S.I. and Fetz E.E. “Direct control of paralyzed muscles by cortical neurons” Nature. 2008 October 15. DOI: 10.1038/nature07418 [Epub ahead of print]