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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

SUCCESS! Panel Finds That Nearly All Invasive Chimp Research is Unnecessary; NIH Agrees

From Discover magazine

After seven months of deliberation, the US Institute of Medicine has released a report that marks a turning point in the use of chimpanzees, humanity’s closest relative, in medical research. An IOM panel found that chimpanzees were in the vast majority of cases no longer required for disease research and laid out three stringent rules against which all current and future chimp research should be judged. Within two hours, Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, announced he had accepted the group’s analysis and would set up a committee to apply the rules to proposed and ongoing research projects funded by the NIH.

The recommendation is a reflection of our growing realization that chimps may be capable of self-awareness, empathy, grief, and happiness, and may possess basic morality as well as a culture; Brandon Keim, who has covered chimp research extensively for Wired, notes that some scientists have begun to think they should qualify as nonhuman people. Subjecting them to disease, pain, and psychological trauma in the service of research thus has grown to seem ethically dubious, especially after it was revealed that the NIH planned to send 209 chimps who had been allowed to retire from medical research back into the lab and that an NIH division had illegally bred captive chimpanzees. At the same time, scientists’ increasing skill with using cells in Petri dishes and cheaper, less ethically daunting lab animals like mice in experiments with potential drugs have meant that there are today relatively few research projects for which chimpanzees are the best option. The only projects that the committee believed might have potential need for chimpanzees are those researching vaccines for hepatitis C and a few current projects looking at certain types of antibodies.

Accordingly, the IOM has recommended that the NIH approve chimps as research subjects only in cases when no other suitable model is available, when the experiment cannot be performed ethically in humans, and when important progress will be significantly delayed or stopped altogether without the use of chimps. Noninvasive behavioral research in which chimps live in near-natural conditions and comparative genomics work, which usually just requires a blood sample, are not prohibited but will need to meet another set of conditions under the committee’s recommendations. All future chimp research projects submitted for funding to the NIH will be assessed according to these criteria, and current publicly funded projects that use chimps, which number roughly 37, will also be reviewed to make sure that they meet the guidelines. Collins told Nature News that he believes about 50% will wash out under the new rules.

The official Statement by NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins on the Institute of Medicine report addressing the scientific need for the use of chimpanzees in research:

The use of animals in research has enabled scientists to identify new ways to treat illness, extend life, and improve health and well-being. Chimpanzees are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, providing exceptional insights into human biology and the need for special consideration and respect. While used very selectively and in limited numbers for medical research, chimpanzees have served an important role in advancing human health in the past. However, new methods and technologies developed by the biomedical community have provided alternatives to the use of chimpanzees in several areas of research.

In December 2010, the National Institutes of Health commissioned a study by the Institute of Medicine to assess whether chimpanzees are or will be necessary for biomedical and behavioral research. The IOM now has issued its findings, with a primary recommendation that the use of chimpanzees in research be guided by a set of principles and criteria. The committee proposed three principles to analyze current and potential future research using chimpanzees.

That the knowledge gained must be necessary to advance the public’s health;
There must be no other research model by which the knowledge could be obtained, and the research cannot be ethically performed on human subjects; and
The animals used in the proposed research must be maintained either in ethologically appropriate physical and social environments (i.e., as would occur in their natural environment) or in natural habitats.

Based on its deliberations, the IOM committee concluded that “while the chimpanzee has been a valuable animal model in past research, most current use of chimpanzees for biomedical research is unnecessary.” The committee also concluded, however, that the following areas may continue to require the use of chimpanzees: some ongoing research on monoclonal antibody therapies, research on comparative genomics, and non-invasive studies of social and behavioral factors that affect the development, prevention, or treatment of disease. The committee was unable to reach consensus on the necessity of the chimpanzee for the development of prophylactic hepatitis C virus vaccine. While the committee encouraged NIH to continue development of non-chimpanzee models and technologies, it acknowledged that new, emerging, or re-emerging diseases may present challenges that may require the use of chimpanzees.

I have considered the report carefully and have decided to accept the IOM committee recommendations. NIH is in the process of developing a complete plan for implementation of the IOM’s guiding principles and criteria. I will be assembling a working group within the NIH Council of Councils to provide advice on the implementation of the recommendations, and to consider the size and placement of the active and inactive populations of NIH-owned or -supported chimpanzees. We will not issue any new awards for research involving chimpanzees until processes for implementing the recommendations are in place.
NIH is committed to conducting and supporting high-quality science in the interest of advancing public health, and to the humane care and use of animals used in NIH research. I am grateful to the IOM for their careful and thoughtful assessment of this important and sensitive topic.

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