Washington–John J. Pippin, M.D., director of academic affairs for the nonprofit Physicians Committee, issues the following statement in response to the chimpanzee experimentation announcement made by Francis Collins, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health:
“As a physician who was invited to testify before the Institute of Medicine panel examining the usefulness of chimpanzee experimentation, I’m elated that chimpanzees who have spent decades in research facilities will soon be sent to a sanctuary. Scarce government research funding should now be redirected to human-relevant methods including organ-on-a-chip technology, stem cells, and population studies.
“Today Dr. Collins announced that he has accepted 27 of the 28 implementation recommendations from the Council of Councils Working Group. NIH will keep a colony of up to 50 chimpanzees for possible future research use, but with three important provisos: (1) The number will be determined by the number and nature of new research protocols; (2) These chimpanzees will not be bred; (3) The need for this colony will be reviewed in five years. The result of the NIH decision today is that nearly all current NIH-funded invasive research will be phased out, NIH-supported privately owned chimpanzees will be subject to the same funding limitations, and the barrier to new invasive research will be very high.
“The Institute of Medicine panel charged with examining the necessity of chimpanzee experimentation could not find a single area of disease research for which the animals are essential. Today’s decision to retire most government-owned chimpanzees is the result of years of scientific deliberation, and it is the right decision. It validates our position that chimpanzee experiments contribute very little to human medicine and are not essential for any current research purposes.
“NIH has already released more than 200 chimpanzees to Chimp Haven, a sanctuary. Now it is time for private institutions such as New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana—which owns approximately 246 chimpanzees including Reggie and Emma—to also place chimpanzees off limits for invasive experiments.
“But New Iberia and other laboratories are unlikely to retire their chimpanzees until NIH has completely ended its chimpanzee experiments. Dr. Collins says NIH will keep a reserve colony of approximately 50 chimpanzees for possible future invasive experiments.
“Instead, Dr. Collins needs to abandon this futile plan and immediately retire all government-owned chimpanzees—including Fred at Texas Biomedical Research Institute—who may be facing a lifetime of captivity.
“Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it is proposing to classify captive chimpanzees as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Full protection under the Endangered Species Act is long overdue for chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. The new status is a tremendous change that ends the completely unprotected current status of captive chimpanzees.
“Chimpanzees have repeatedly proven to be poor models for many areas of human disease research, such as HIV, malaria and other infectious diseases, neuroscience research, and cancer.”
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.