With the holiday approaching, at least one species has (a little) something to be cheerful about. Earlier this week, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a government commissioned report on the status of chimpanzee research in the United States. The report concluded that “recent advances in alternate research tools have rendered chimpanzees largely unnecessary as research subjects.” Dr. Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, announced on December 15 that NIH would be accepting the recommendations contained within the report, and until further notice will not be accepting any applications involving chimpanzee research.
It should be noted, however, that NIH is NOT considering an outright ban on all chimpanzee research- it is simply considering a significant decrease in funding for such research, via the implementation of strict standards that will limit chimpanzee experiments to those that are absolutely necessary. While the report and NIH agree that most chimpanzee research is currently unnecessary, there is no saying whether the use of chimpanzees will become more “necessary” in the future. The IOM report itself states that while chimpanzee research is largely unnecessary as things currently stand, that “it is impossible to predict whether research on emerging or new diseases may necessitate chimpanzees in the future.”
That being said, future chimpanzee research will have to pass some pretty heavy muster to be allowed. The IOM report states that unless three criteria are met, another research model must be used. Those criteria are:
- The knowledge gained must be necessary for public health;
- There can be no other research model that could be adequately used, and the research cannot be ethically performed on humans;
- The chimpanzees used in the proposed research must be kept in an area that would replicate their natural environment, or be an actual natural habitat.
While it is somewhat disappointing that the NIH has not outright banned all research on chimpanzees, this is certainly a big step, and hopefully the beginning of the end of chimpanzee research in the United States. One can only hope that the IOM report, and NIH’s adoption thereof, will serve to bolster support for the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, which, if passed, would end all federally sponsored research on all great apes species in the United States.
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