Last week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory had one main scientific moment. It has long been known that Amy is a neurobiologist. It has been introduced in previous episodes that she has been studying nicotine addiction in primates. This episode had her monkeys in a stage of nicotine withdrawal after they were cut back on cigarettes. Everyone knows that nicotine is an addictive drug, but I decided to investigate how primates are involved with nicotine addiction studies.
Nicotine and its effects on primates have been studied very extensively over the last few decades. Primates along with mice and rats seem to be the primary animals used in this type of testing. In The Big Bang Theory, it was always referenced that Amy’s monkeys would be actually smoking the cigarettes to get the nicotine. While this is true for some studies, and primate can smoke cigarettes, the primary method of giving the monkeys nicotine seems to be through injection. I came across many discussions of how the primate test subjects could self-administer their nicotine by pressing a lever. Many of the studies would slowly increase the amount of times that the monkey would have to hit the lever to get administered a dose of nicotine. This is what truly revealled the addictive nature of nicotine. The monkeys would be willing to hit that lever hundreds of times so that they would get their nicotine.
One of the more recent examples of this sort of research was released in June 2012 by Weill Cornell Medical College. Researchers there came up with a vaccine that could prevent nicotine addiction in mice. The researchers would genetically modifiy some liver cells to produce nicotine bonding antibodies. These antibodies would capture the nicotine once it entered the bloodstream, and prevent it from reaching the brain (where the nicotine addiction happens). This vaccine has proven itself in mice, but the researchers say that they will soon move into primate and eventually human testing.
So, it appears that monkeys and other animals can play a major role in scientific testing. Unfortunately, this is not a wonderful option, but it is the best means that we have currently.