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Title: The Strategic Importance of Monkeys: Divergence in Non-Human Primate Research Between the United States and China
Authors: Pierson, Rowan
Advisors: Friedberg, Aaron
Department: Princeton School of Public and International Affairs
Certificate Program: Global Health and Health Policy Program
Class Year: 2022
Abstract: Non-human primates (NHPs) play a crucial role in scientific research to develop understanding of the human brain, produce treatments for human diseases and disorders, and shape the future of emerging technologies like gene editing tools and artificial intelligence (AI). NHPs are uniquely capable of aiding discoveries in these fields given their close phylogenetic relationship to humans and their sophisticated social structures and cognitive abilities. Therefore, while NHP research is often not the first issue that comes to mind when thinking about control of future pharmaceutical developments, understanding of the origin of human cognition, and realization of advanced AI, NHPs and who has access to them, has the potential to determine where these future discoveries take place and who controls the products of those breakthroughs. While the U.S. has historically been the global leader in NHP research and the advancements resulting from it, current trends indicate that the situation is changing. China is investing substantially in expanding its own NHP research capacity by increasing its population of available NHPs and building new state-of-the art research facilities. In addition, China is a friendly environment for NHP research with less oversight than in the West, a public climate supportive of scientific investigation, and a government that is actively recruiting both domestic and foreign scientists with offers of nearly unlimited resources and creative freedom to conduct their work. In contrast, funding for NHP research in the U.S. has been stagnant for nearly two decades and the U.S. is now facing an acute shortage of research primates resulting from an end to Chinese exports during the Covid-19 pandemic and inadequate infrastructure to expand domestic breeding. Moreover, there is substantial pressure in the U.S. to end primate research entirely, with slightly over half of the American public opposed to all biomedical research involving animals. Given the importance of NHPs for scientific research, any divergence in research between the U.S. and China is, thus, of substantial strategic importance. The question that this thesis seeks to answer is consequently two-fold. First, what is the current state of the divergence in NHP research between the U.S. and China and how will it evolve in the future? And second, what are the implications of this divergence from the perspective of the U.S.? In response to the first question, I find that although both countries are currently engaged in significant and comparable levels of research involving NHPs, major differences exist, indicating that China will likely overtake the U.S. to become the global leader in NHP research unless current trends are reversed. Regarding the second question, the implications of the diverging trends in NHP research between the U.S. and China are significant. If China becomes the global leader in NHP research, it is likely to have an advantage over the U.S. moving forward in control over the validation of new pharmaceuticals, access to novel therapeutics, and in the development and control of emerging technologies such as tools for precise gene editing and advanced AI. Ceding supremacy in NHP research to China will thus have significant consequences for U.S. science, health, and security. As such, the U.S. must respond to the divergence in NHP research by bolstering its own capacity to conduct studies with NHPs and by combatting the departure of NHP work and NHP research expertise to China.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, 1929-2022
Global Health and Health Policy Program, 2017-2022

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