January 24, 2013
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has decided to stop funding research that uses chimpanzees while it prepares to revise its policies about primates. The agency also will review all ongoing studies using chimpanzees. Such studies have significantly decreased in recent years. For example, of 94,000 projects NIH funded in 2011, only 53 used primates. The agency has agreed that new methods and technologies have created alternatives to the use of these animals in many areas of research.
At present, the United States is the only industrialized country that still uses primates for medical research, particularly in studies on hepatitis C, AIDS, and malaria. The European Union banned the practice in 2010, following similar decisions by Japan, Australia, and other developed countries. In 2010, an NIH proposal to reintroduce 200 retired chimpanzees into research resulted in a public protest and led the agency to ask the Institute of Medicine (IOM) for a review of their chimp research. NIH stated that it has accepted IOM's recommendations to stop funding research with chimps, during its policy review.
The IOM report called for research on chimps to continue only if there was no other subject available, if the research could not be conducted ethically on humans, and if failure to make the change would impede progress against life-threatening conditions. The report acknowledged that research on chimps may be necessary for hepatitis C vaccine development, short-term continued study of monoclonal antibody research against bacteria and viruses, comparative genome studies, and behavioral research. The panel recommended that animals should be kept in their natural habitat or a similar environment.
Records indicate that the federal government supported 450 of the 937 chimpanzees in US research laboratories in 2011, with private companies owning and using the remainder. IOM also noted that NIH called for a moratorium on breeding chimps for research in 1995. As a result, the federal research population of chimpanzees will be almost nonexistent by 2037.
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