On 15 December, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it temporarily suspended funding for new biomedical and behavioral research on chimpanzees. The announcement was a response to a report released the same day by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The IOM report concluded that most current medical research on chimpanzees is not necessary.
The report does not endorse a ban on chimp research; rather it recommends a set of uniform criteria for determining when use of chimpanzees in research is necessary. The IOM report was produced at the request of the NIH. In biomedical research, the use of chimpanzees could be warranted if not conducting the research would “significantly slow or prevent important advancement to prevent, control and/or treat life-threatening or debilitating conditions.” For behavioral and genetic studies, the report found that research should “provide otherwise unattainable insight into comparative genomics, normal and abnormal behavior, mental health, emotion or cognition.”
The IOM found that chimps are not needed for research on HIV/AIDS, cancer, or nearly any other type of disease. Indeed, only one disease may warrant further research on chimpanzees: the development of a hepatitis C vaccine.
The NIH will create a working group to determine how to implement the recommendations made in the report. Until the group completes its work, the agency will not award any new grants involving chimps. Currently funded research that does not meet the criteria set in the report will be phased out, according to NIH Director Francis Collins. He estimates that about half of currently funded projects would not meet the new standards.
More than 900 chimps live in research facilities in the United States. The NIH owns or funds research on about 600 of the animals. The new rules would not apply to the remaining chimps, as they are owned by research institutions.
The IOM report may be accessed at http://iom.edu/Reports/2011/Chimpanzees-in-Biomedical-and-Behavioral-Research-Assessing-the-Necessity.aspx.
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