June 27, 2013
NIH To Phase Out Use Of Chimpanzees In Medical Research
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced plans to significantly reduce the number of chimpanzees used in biomedical research funded by the agency, stating the creatures deserve special respect due to their status as the closest relatives to humans in the animal kingdom.
According to the Associated Press (AP), NIH officials revealed on Wednesday that the agency would retire approximately 310 chimps from medical research over the next few years. Another 50 chimps will be kept on hand if needed for future work in the field, but only if the research cannot be completed any other way.
"The agency's decision comes on the heels of a 2011 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, which concluded most research using the apes is unnecessary," said Kara Moses of The Guardian. The chimps that will be retained will not be bred and will only be used for studies that meet IMO criteria, while existing research involving the creatures that do not meet the agency's standards will be phased out, she added.
"Americans have benefitted greatly from the chimpanzees' service to biomedical research, but new scientific methods and technologies have rendered their use in research largely unnecessary," NIH Director Francis S. Collins said in a statement.
"Their likeness to humans has made them uniquely valuable for certain types of research, but also demands greater justification for their use," he added. "After extensive consideration with the expert guidance of many, I am confident that greatly reducing their use in biomedical research is scientifically sound and the right thing to do."
In addition to retiring the majority of the research chimpanzees and terminating studies that fail to meet IOM principles, the NIH said it would provide ethologically appropriate facilities for those being retained and would also establish a review panel to consider research projects that propose the use of chimps as test subjects.
"The NIH decision was long anticipated, and follows a series of efforts to protect chimpanzees, both in the wild and in captivity," New York Times reporter James Gorman said. Two weeks ago, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing captive chimpanzees as endangered, which would require laboratories to obtain permits in order to use the creatures to test drugs or in other research, he added.
"This is an historic moment and major turning point for chimpanzees in laboratories, some who have been languishing in concrete housing for over 50 years," Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, told AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard. "It is crucial now to ensure that the release of hundreds of chimpanzees to sanctuary becomes a reality."