|An NIH chimp in cage|
By James Gorman, The New York Times, January 22, 2013
Almost all of the 451 chimpanzees owned or supported by the National Institutes of Health that are now at research facilities should be permanently retired from research and moved to sanctuaries, with planning for the move to start immediately, a report from an N.I.H. council unanimously recommended Tuesday.
The report, approved by the N.I.H. Council of Councils, is the latest step in a process that began more than two years ago when the agency began to review its use of chimpanzees in research. Its recommendations will be open to public comment for 60 days, and in late March, Dr. Francis S. Collins, the N.I.H. director, will decide whether to put them into effect.
He already accepted guidelines for reducing the use of chimpanzees that formed the basis of the current recommendations.
Kathleen Conlee, vice president for animal research of the Humane Society of the United States, said: “We are very pleased with these recommendations. Importantly, they did not recommend future breeding.”
The report says that for the future, only a small colony of about 50 chimps should be kept for the possibility of new research, which would have to be approved by an independent committee, including representation from the public.
Of the 451 N.I.H. chimps, 282 are available for research and 169 are considered inactive but are not permanently retired. An additional 219 chimpanzees owned or supported by the agency are already retired and are either at a sanctuary or headed for one. About 350 more chimps at research laboratories are owned by universities or private companies, according to the Humane Society.
The report also proposes standards for the social and physical welfare of N.I.H. chimps, including requirements that they live in groups of at least seven, have a minimum of 1,000 square feet per chimp, room to climb, access to the outdoors in all weather and opportunities to forage for food. “Not a single laboratory in the United States meets these recommendations,” Ms. Conlee said.
Within five years, at the latest, any N.I.H. chimpanzees that are approved for use in research will need to have housing that meets the new criteria.
Justin Goodman, the laboratory investigations department director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, issued a statement supporting the recommendations, saying, in part, “At last, our federal government understands: a chimpanzee should no more live in a laboratory than a human should live in a phone booth.”
Dr. K. C. Kent Lloyd of the University of California, Davis, a co-chairman of the working group that prepared the report, said in a hearing Tuesday that was streamed online that his group made field trips to seven chimpanzee facilities, including laboratories and sanctuaries.
He said the group was asked to consider what living conditions were appropriate for chimpanzees, the species closest to humans and highly intelligent and social. Even if experiments are approved in the future as being necessary for human health and undoable in any other way than using chimps, he said the animals must have “environments that not only allow but promote the full range of natural chimp behavior.”
That means room for social groups, and, Dr. Lloyd added, “No chimp should live alone for an extended period of time.”
The report recommends canceling six of nine current biomedical research projects that involve immunology and infectious agents. The report does not specify the nature of the research, but one of the few areas where some scientists consider chimp use important is in work on hepatitis C because no other animals provide a useful model for research, which involves infecting the chimps with the virus.
In less invasive research on behavior and genetics, 15 projects were approved or conditionally approved to continue and six projects ended.
The report also offers a plan for the independent committee to evaluate future research proposals, based on the guidelines proposed in December 2011 by the Institute of Medicine, which emphasized that human health must be at issue and that there must be no other way to do the research.
Tuesday’s recommendations come in the midst of efforts on several fronts to end experiments on chimpanzees, including a bill to stop experimentation on all great apes, which did not pass in the last Congress, but which proponents hope to reintroduce, and a pending decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service on whether captive chimps should be considered endangered, as wild chimps are.
The process that led to the recommendations began in December 2010, when the N.I.H. decided to rethink its use of chimps in medical experiments and asked for a report from the Institute of Medicine. That group concluded that most current research on chimpanzees was not necessary and that chimps should be used only when public health is on the line, no other animals are appropriate and ethical experiments on humans are not possible.
Dr. Collins suspended new grants for medical research on chimpanzees and sought further guidance on how to implement the recommendations. For that he turned to the N.I.H. Council of Councils, which set up the working group, which delivered its report on Tuesday.