Doctors Say NIH Progress in Retiring Chimpanzees Is Good, but Not Enough
WASHINGTON—Doctors with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) praised the report of a National Institutes of Health advisory group, which recommended immediately phasing out federally funded chimpanzee experiments and retiring most federally owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries. But the doctors strongly oppose NIH’s suggestion that it hold 50 chimpanzees for future research.
"Because chimpanzees are more aware than previously thought and suffer more in laboratories than had been appreciated, this move is long overdue,” says Elizabeth Kucinich, PCRM’s director of government affairs. “While we are happy with the progress, we advise that chimpanzee research be phased out completely.”
The report from the Council of Councils Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research states that the NIH should permanently retire all but 50 of the 360 government-owned chimpanzees to a federal sanctuary program. The Working Group’s report recommends that NIH should not revitalize breeding of chimpanzees for any research, including new, emerging, or re-emerging disease research.
“Planning should start immediately to expand current facilities to accommodate these chimpanzees,” states the report’s recommendation. “The federal sanctuary system is the most species-appropriate environment currently available and thus is the preferred environment for long -term housing of chimpanzees no longer required for research.”
If the NIH accepts the recommendations of this report, the approximately 170 chimpanzees at the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico should be sent to sanctuaries. This includes Ken and the 13 chimpanzees who are in poor health facing laboratory procedures at Texas Biomed in San Antonio. Ken, for example, is at risk of sudden cardiac death according to medical records obtained by PCRM through the Freedom of Information Act. Ken and the others should now be removed from the laboratory and reunited with the other Alamogordo chimpanzees in permanent retirement.
The Institute of Medicine’s 2011 landmark report could not identify a single area of health research for which invasive chimpanzee experimentation is essential. In fact, the committee concluded that in some instances using chimpanzees could hinder progress toward finding therapeutics and vaccines for humans.
NIH director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., accepted the IOM recommendations and convened the Council of Councils Working Group to develop a plan for implementing the IOM’s findings and recommendations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also ended chimpanzee experiments.
“Consistent with the findings of the IOM panel, CDC no longer conducts chimpanzee research,” wrote Tanja Popovic, M.D., Ph.D., CDC deputy associate director for science, in a letter to PCRM.
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.