"We simply can't control the environment well enough," Dr. Grove said. "It is also important for us to be able to control all aspects of the environment and the disease. Here we can do that."
Conlee replied that it was a "myth" that monkeys were the best animals to use in studying human behavior.
"We've seen time and again drugs that have failed and had hugely adverse effects on humans, where they relied on monkey testing for the testing of that drug and it gets pulled off the market because of the devastating effects on humans," she said.
Yet Dr. Grove's findings are highly sought after by pharmaceutical companies eager to develop the next obesity drug. The research, funded in large part by the federal government as well as drug companies, has so far yielded some interesting results.
Grove pointed to at least one drug shown to reduce weight and improve glucose control in the monkeys. That drug is expected to be tested soon on humans.
He also discussed other findings he considers important. While studying the offspring of monkeys fed poor, high-fat diets during their pregnancies, Grove discovered that the baby monkeys were more anxious than those who came from mothers who ate healthy diets.
He said this demonstrates how a bad diet during pregnancy "is programming that brain to also seek that high fat diet and those highly palatable diets later in life which are going to make them at higher risk for obesity and diabetes later on."
In response to critics of his work, Grove said they simply don't have a strong understanding about the purpose of his team's research.
"We are not trying to figure out if a high-fat diet makes a monkey fat," he said. "We really need to understand why people, two-thirds of our population, are obese."