Scientists push to retire chimps from research

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Use of chimpanzees in virtually all federally funded research would cease under recommendations made Tuesday to the National Institutes of Health by a committee of scientists.

The committee said hundreds of chimpanzees should be retired from research laboratories to a national sanctuary. It said only 50 chimpanzees would be retained for future potential research. Such research could only go forward if using chimps were the only way to study a threat to human health and their use was approved by an independent committee including members of the public.

Additionally, the NIH committee said "appropriate physical and social environments" that allow the chimps to live in conditions similar to what they would have in the wild must be maintained, such as social groups of seven or more and outdoor enclosures of at least 1,000 square feet per chimp.

The NIH is expected to make a final decision in late March, after 60 days of public comment that began Wednesday.

Currently, there are 451 research chimps that are federally funded -- 360 of them owned and supported by NIH and another 91 supported by NIH but not owned by the agency. The University of Pittsburgh said it does not use any chimpanzees in any of its research.

In December 2010, the NIH asked the Institute of Medicine to review use of chimps in NIH-funded biomedical and behavioral research needed to advance public health. A year later, the Institute of Medicine finished its review of the nearly 700 chimpanzees then owned or otherwise supported by the NIH, determining that "most current biomedical research use of chimpanzees is not necessary."

The NIH immediately curtailed any future grants involving chimpanzees and assembled the NIH Council of Councils Working Group, which made this week's recommendations.

"Chimpanzees' close genetic proximity to humans makes them a uniquely valuable species for studying certain human conditions; they have provided exceptional insights into human biology and behavior," the report said. It noted such research has:

• Contributed significantly to the development of the hepatitis A and B vaccines in use today;

• Identified the hepatitis C virus, which has led to improved public health measures, increased the safety of blood donations, and led to the development of emerging therapies;

• Determined that dietary salt is a major causative factor in elevated blood pressure;

• Developed antibodies approved for use in treating lymphomas and other cancers and establishing that certain in vitro differentiated immune cells can serve as vehicles for cancer immunotherapy.

"Today, however, new methods and technologies developed by the biomedical community have provided alternatives to the use of chimpanzees in several areas of research," the report said.

science

Michael A. Fuoco: 412-263-1968.


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