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April 25, 2002


NIH Redesignates Yerkes as National Primate Research Center

The Yerkes Center of Emory University has been renamed the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, in recognition of its involvement with and impact on research programs throughout the U.S. and the world.

The name change was made in accordance with a recent decision of the National Center for Research Resources, part of the National Institutes of Health, to redesignate all eight federally funded Regional Primate Research Centers as National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs).

The RPRC system was created by Congress in 1960 to address the critical need for special facilities in which scientists could conduct multidisciplinary behavioral and biomedical research with non-human primates. That year, Yerkes was designated as an RPRC, four years after its purchase by Emory from Yale University. The designation translated into federal funding that covered the cost of operating Yerkes.

This federal support continues today in the form of an NIH base grant awarded at five-year intervals via a competitive renewal process. The base grant now represents a fraction of Yerkes' total $36 million grant portfolio, which has tripled in size since 1998. Within the University, the Yerkes Center's research funding ranks second behind the School of Medicine.

In return for the federal dollars they receive, the NPRCs bear the dual mandate of providing optimal research environments for their own scientific faculty and serving as resources for collaborative investigators from other institutions. To that end, Yerkes has some 85 affiliate and collaborative faculty from the School of Medicine and the University as well as outside Emory, and the Center provides research services to scientists representing 65 research institutions throughout the U.S. and the world.

Founded in 1929 by Yale psychobiologist Robert M. Yerkes, the Center once housed more than two dozen different species of non-human primates, including all five species of great apes: gorillas, orangutans, gibbons, bonobos, and chimpanzees. As the need for non-human primate models in biomedical research grew, Yerkes narrowed the diversity of its colony to focus its resources on breeding and housing larger numbers of the animals most commonly used in research, such as rhesus macaques.

Today, Yerkes houses roughly 3,000 non-human primates representing eight species. Of the apes, only the chimpanzees remain, the other great apes having been donated to zoological parks. About 1,900 non-human primates live at the 117-acre Field Station in Lawrenceville, Ga., while another 1,100 primates and 2,500 rodents are housed at the Main Station on the main Emory campus.

With these animals, Yerkes scientists are developing vaccines for AIDS, malaria, and other infectious diseases, and treatments for cocaine addiction, Parkinson's disease, and cardiovascular disease. Other research programs focus on age-related cognitive decline, childhood visual defects, organ transplant rejection, and the social behaviors of primates.

The Center has four scientific divisions: Microbiology and Immunology, Neuroscience, Psychobiology, and Visual Science. In addition, Yerkes is home to the Emory Vaccine Research Center and the Living Links Center, as well as parts of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience and the Center for AIDS Research at Emory. Yerkes' scientific faculty totals about 180 researchers, including 24 core faculty scientists plus affiliate and collaborative faculty and research associates. About 100 graduate and undergraduate students also participate in research and education programs at the Center.

The other seven NPRCs are located in: Beaverton, Ore.; Davis, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; Covington, Lou.; San Antonio, Tex.; Seattle, Wash.; and Southborough, Mass.

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