The use of chimpanzees in biomedical experiments is unnecessary in most cases, according to a study commissioned by the National Institutes of Health, The New York Times reported.
The report, from a committee of the Institute of Medicine, recommended the United States restrict the use of chimpanzees and require them to be housed in “ethnologically appropriate” environments or in natural habitats, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported.
Still, the report showed only two areas of research warrant the use of chimps and did leave the door open for fatal or debilitating human diseases that can’t be done any other way. “What we did was establish a set of rigorous criteria that set the bar quite high for use of chimpanzees in biomedical or behavioral research,” said Jeffrey Kahn, chairman of the committee that produced the report and a professor of bioethics and public policy at Johns Hopkins University, The Times reported.
The only countries to allow experimentation chimpanzees are the US and Gabon. Currently, there are 937 chimpanzees in captivity in the US for medical research as of May and the NIH owns or supports 436 of them, Bloomberg reported. Europe ended research on great apes in 1999, but the US has continued to allow medical studies on chimps in areas ranging from HIV/AIDS vaccines, hepatitis C, malaria, respiratory viruses, brain and behavior, the AFP reported.
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Public outcry against the use of chimpanzees in medical experiments was triggered last year when the NIH proposed to reintroduce several dozen retired chimps into research colonies, the AFP reported. The use of chimps is still necessary in development of vaccines against hepatitis C, for short-term continued study of monoclonal antibody research against bacteria and viruses, and for comparative genome studies and behavioral research, according to the report.
The report gained support on both ends of the spectrum, due to how it was interpreted. Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, which is strongly opposed to any experimentation on chimpanzees, said, “We’re tremendously encouraged” by the findings, The Times reported.
But The Times also reported that Dr. Thomas Rowell, director of the New Iberia Research Center in New Iberia, La., which houses 471 chimps in the US, was happy with the report.
“It just confirms what we’ve been saying all along in regard to the chimpanzee model for advancing public health research,” he said.
The report concluded that the use of chimps in biomedical experiment was justified only when there was no other way to do the research, such as with other animals or human subjects, and if stopping the research would “significantly slow or prevent important advancements to prevent, control and/or treat life-threatening or debilitating conditions,” The Times reported.
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