Project of Cooperation and Innovation (PCI 8) With the support of the SUK-CUS and SERi (2013-2016)



University of Fribourg (leading house) and University of Zürich



Prof. Eric M. Rouiller (UniFr) Prof. Kevan Martin (UniZh) Prof. G. Rainer (UniFr)


Switzerland presently has a dispersed group of experts in the use of non-human primates (NHP) for biomedical research. The experts have theoretical and practical skills that are rare, because they are NHP specific. These specialist skills are required for many aspects of working with NHPs, and they are not transferable from knowledge of the anatomy or physiology of other animal models, such as rodents. These specialist skills cover a wide range of issues, including animal welfare and nutrition, breeding, behavioural training, surgery, pathology, ethics, public relations, legal aspects and safety. The canton-specific structure of animal licensing in Switzerland has restricted the development of coherent protocols, policies and operating procedures across NHP users in Switzerland. However, successful attempts have been made to coordinate training courses between the two Universities (Fribourg and Zürich), where NHP research is conducted. There are no formal structured training programs available for instructing young scientists in NHP specific skills. As a result most training of researchers is done externally, usually in Germany or the UK, whereas clearly it would be preferable to train scientists working in Swizterland in Swiss facilities. The primate facilities at the two sites are potentially open to co-operative projects, whereby researchers from other Swiss Universities that do not themselves have such facilities are granted access for conducting collaborative NHP research projects. So far such collaborations have been managed on an ad-hoc basis (see below), but there is a need for better organization and coordination in this area, so that the valuable NHP facilities can be made more accessible to outside researchers.



We propose here the creation of a Swiss Primate Competence Center for Research (SPCCR), which will co-ordinate activities between the Universities of Fribourg (UniFR) and Zürich (UZH) concerning all non-human primates (NHP) related issues. The SPCCR will foster the exchange of information and sharing of knowledge across the wide range of issues concerning NHP research. It will co-ordinate research and development of techniques and protocols, whose consensual adoption across SPCCR sites will provide refined standard operating methods, with the focus on improving the welfare of NHP used in experiments. The SPCCR will be open to collaborative work with Swiss partner institutions, organizing access to infrastructure and sharing of NHP related knowledge and skills. The SPCCR will be responsible for training of researchers and animal care personnel in NHP related skills, and, will organize a structured training program in these areas, in consultation and cooperation with the relevant cantonal authorities. The SPCCR will also concern itself with socio-ethical-legal aspects of NHP research, providing advice to its members on matters of national or other relevant legislation. Finally, the SPCCR will coordinate interactions with the public on NHP related issues in Switzerland. For example it will provide a central contact person for media. It will also help to train NHP researchers to become effective voices in explaining their research and its purpose to the public.

The creation of this Competence Center will allow the merging of NHP related activities at UniFr and UZH, and thus prevent the duplication of procedures, administration and training at each of the two sites. It will also help preserve and strengthen high standard expertise in Switzerland related to NHP research. It will provide a basis for development of structured training for the next generation of NHP researchers. It will allow Swiss scientists outside of Universities of Fribourg and Zürich to benefit from the NHP infrastructure. Communication of the goals and benefits of NHP research to the public and legal support complement the activities planned in the context of this proposal.

The two NHP sites at UniFr and UZH are both in line with the new guidelines for animal care introduced in September 2010, requiring housing of macaque monkeys by groups of 2-5 animals in a room offering a volume of 45 m3. Substantial investments by the host institutions were necessary to adapt the facilities for the housing and care of NHPs to this new legislation. Considering that these guidelines are very recent, as well as the concept of protection of investments for one or two decades, it is reasonable to predict that they will remain stable for the foreseable future.


The specific aim of the present proposal is to extend collaborations between Swiss academic institutions and the SPCCR in the field of NHP research. The SPCCR, active on both sites (UniFr and UZH), with a leading house at UniFr, offers the expertise in NHP at a national scale. A further goal is to create a central bank of organs’ tissue derived from non-human primates (macaque monkeys) for post-mortem histological analysis. From animals sacrificed for instance at the end of a neuroscience project, requiring the analysis of the nervous system, it would be possible to make available other organs (e.g. heart, liver, kidney, etc) to other scientists in Switzerland for research and/or didactic purposes. Along the same line, as already practiced now (collaboration between UniFr and EPFL), blood samples from living monkeys may be provided, for genetic analyses for instance.

The originality of the present project is to structure non-human primate (NHP) biomedical research in Switzerland at a national level, to transcend the usual cantonal borders. Most countries highly active in NHP biomedical research (e.g. US, Germany, UK, France, etc) are organized at national level in the form of one or several “non-human primate centers”, available to the scientific community, especially by providing from their breeding facility experimental animals (mostly macaque monkeys) to the scientists distributed in the country, in addition to their intramuros research programs. The size of our country does not allow a NHP breeding center (monkeys at UniFr and UZH are purchased abroad, from breeding facilities recognized by the BVET) but, with the present project, it is our goal to establish a unified center of competence to conduct biomedical research on non-human primates (macaque monkeys) based on the highest scientific and ethical standards *. According to a group of independent experts in the field (Weatherall report, UK, 2006), the use of primates is mandatory for research in fields like neuroscience, infectious diseases and biology of reproduction, for the foreseable future. In this context, Switzerland has to offer the access to such experimental model to its academic biomedical scientific community, in the form of a national center of competence for NHP, capitalizing on the long experience acquired during the last 5-6 decades at UniFr and UZH. In line with the guidelines from the Swiss Medical and Natural Sciences academies, the present SPCCR project thus offers the possibility to Swiss scientists to conduct research projects on NHP according to the highest standards in Switzerland, instead of transferring this type of research abroad conducted under lower scientific and ethical standards.

The SPCCR fully adheres to the “Basel declaration” guidelines (www.basel-declaration.org) Reference: Weatherall D. (2006): The use of non-human primates in research.



- Beginning of the project with the new collaborators in January 2013. Elaboration of common standards between UniFr and UZH (1.1.2013 – 30.06.2013).

- Implementations of the new standards (1.07.2013 – 31.12.2013).

- 2013: first training block course (2-3 days) for all NHP scientists in Switzerland (including collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry hosting NHP research, such as Roche and Novartis).

- 2014: call for further collaboration with other Universities and EPF in Switzerland. Presentation to the scientific community of the SPCCR, as well as to the public (via the media). Selection for a first round of projects conducted at SPCCR in collaborations with scientists of other institutions.

- As of 2014, yearly training block courses for collaborators (again in collaboration with industry), seperately for scientists and technicians (including animal care takers).

2015 – 2016: execution of the collaborative projects, selected in 2014

1.1.2017: end of the present CUS project. As the scientific projects on NHP are long lasting (5-10 years), the SPCCR will be taken over by the two host institutions (UniFr and UZH), with possible additional contribution of other institutions, depending on the ongoing common scientific projects conducted at the SPCCR.


SPCCR-SWISS NON-HUMAN PRIMATE COMPETENCE CENTER FOR RESEARCH - WEBmaster: veronique.moret@unifr.ch - Swiss University