National Institutes Of Health Agrees Chimpanzees Should Be Retired From Research
January 23, 2013

National Institutes Of Health Agrees Chimpanzees Should Be Retired From Research

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) had recently made recommendations that all but about 50 chimpanzees should be permanently retired from research. On Tuesday (Jan. 22) the council unanimously agreed on the move, and government-funded scientists began removing chimps from their labs.

The first primates to be removed from research facilities arrived at their new home in south Louisiana at a national sanctuary (Chimp Haven) for retired federal research chimps. The nine chimps came from University of Louisiana´s New Iberia Research Center, which no longer has an NIH chimp research contract. Seven more chimps are expected to arrive at Chimp Haven on Thursday (Jan. 24) and another 95 over the coming months, according to officials at the sanctuary.

The proposal was approved by the NIH Council of Councils Working Group, which along with the chimp retirement announcement, called for major cuts in grants to study chimps in labs and bans on chimp breeding for research.

In all, more than 400 chimps would be retired permanently from research facilities across the country under the NIH recommendation. The latest move is part of a process that began more than two years ago when the agency started a review process of its use of chimps in research. The recommendation is now open to public comment for 60 days, and in March, Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the NIH, will decide whether to put the proposal into effect.

Collins has already accepted guidelines for reducing chimp research, guidelines which formed the basis of the current proposal.

The NIH´s 86-page recommendation describes how chimps should be kept and what will be needed for any future research. The recommendation states that chimps should only be used when there is no other way to study a threat to human health, and any research should be approved by an independent committee with members from the general public.

Until yesterday, of the 451 chimps under NIH-funded research labs, 282 were still available for research and 169 were considered inactive, but had not yet been permanently retired. As of today, nine chimps have been permanently retired, with more than a hundred making their way to Chimp Haven over the coming months. The agency said an additional 219 chimps have already been retired or are on their way to a sanctuary for retirement.

The Humane Society of the United States said there´s another 350 chimps owned by universities and private companies that are still being used for research.

“We are very pleased with these recommendations. Importantly, they did not recommend future breeding,” Kathleen Conlee, VP for animal research at the Humane Society, told James Gorman of the NY Times.

According to the NIH recommendation, proposals are made for the social and physical welfare of chimps, they should be kept in groups of at least seven, have a minimum of 1,000 sq. ft. per chimp, have room to climb, have access to the outdoors and given the opportunity to forage for food.

“Not a single laboratory in the United States meets these recommendations,” said Conlee.

Under the recommendations, any chimps approved for research in the future (within five years) must meet the above requirements.

Justin Goodman, of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), in support of the recommendations, said: “At last, our federal government understands: a chimpanzee should no more live in a laboratory than a human should live in a phone booth.”

The NIH report also recommends shutting down six of nine current biomedical research projects that involve immunology and infectious agents. The report doesn´t specify the nature of the research in these projects, but one of the few areas where scientists consider chimp use important involves work on hepatitis C. Scientists concur that there are no other useful models for research of hepatitis C, which involves infecting chimps with the virus.

The recommendation also comes along with efforts to end experimentation on all great apes. That bill failed to pass in the last Congress, but will likely be reintroduced. The recommendation also comes as the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decides whether captive chimps should be assessed as endangered, just as their wild counterparts are.

Collins said he will suspend all new grants for medical research that involve the use of chimpanzees and will seek for further guidance on how to implement the NIH recommendations.

Conlee said some 300 chimps should begin being moved to Chimp Haven in the coming months. “The report made it very clear that the federal sanctuary system is the most appropriate place for these animals.”

She said she is still disappointed that the NIH plans to keep 50 chimps for future research if approvals are met. “But I'm glad they made clear those animals should be kept to much higher standards than they are currently being kept in,” she said.

Chimp Haven meets the NIH guidelines for suitable chimp habitat. However, a $30 million cap on total spending for construction of the sanctuary and care of its inhabitants is close to being met. If that cap is breached, then it is likely the NIH would not be able to contribute most of the $13,000 annual budget needed for the care of each federal chimpanzee retiree.

Conlee said the Humane Society will urge Congress to move money now being spent on research contracts to aid the chimps at Chimp Haven. The sanctuary can give better care for less money than what is being spent in the lab setting, she explained.