In their July 11, 2012 opinion piece, officials at the University of Texas Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research, New Iberia Research Center, Southwest National Primate Research Center, and Yerkes National Primate Research Center attempt to deconstruct Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s (R-Md.) argument that chimpanzee experiments are no longer necessary.
They break down nearly every sentence Bartlett wrote, desperately seeking inaccuracies. But in my opinion, they ultimately fail at convincing the reader of anything besides their desperation to continue a practice that has clearly been labeled as outdated by many members of the medical community.
In December 2011, a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine issued the report Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity, concluding that chimpanzees are, “…largely unnecessary as research subjects.” I was invited to testify at the panel’s first hearing and provided information to panel members for several months as they wrote their report.
After months of intense scrutiny and discussion, the IOM committee could not pinpoint a single area of experiments for which chimpanzee experiments were demonstrably necessary.
The report says that “chimpanzee use for RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] research is not necessary,” “chimpanzees are not necessary for HCV [hepatitis C virus] antiviral drug discovery and development,” and “chimpanzees are not necessary for development and testing of a therapeutic HCV vaccine.”
These are not my words—they are taken directly from the report.
The report was written at the request of the National Institutes of Health. NIH director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., immediately accepted the report's conclusions and recommendations and halted approval of all new chimpanzee protocols. Dr. Collins even said in a public TEDMED speech that animal tests are not reliable, are costly, and are time consuming.
The NIH formed a working group of its Council of Councils to carry out the IOM report recommendations, and it appears that we will soon see a major shift away from these outdated experiments. On June 5, the National Institutes of Health’s Council of Councils held a meeting, and during an open session it will provide an update on the Working Group on Chimpanzees in NIH Supported Research.
Some chimpanzees—such as a group of 25 who were kept in windowless enclosures and sometimes in solitary housing at the Maryland contract research organization Bioqual, Inc.—are already being removed from experiments deemed unnecessary.
According to the Washington Post, the Bioqual chimpanzees were being used for areas of study that were specifically determined to be unnecessary in the IOM report. No longer needed for those studies, the chimpanzees are being shipped back to New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana to be warehoused indefinitely at great taxpayer expense. Where they should be going is to sanctuary.
A June 29, 2012, Washington Post article explains: “The final National Institutes of Health-funded experiments at Bioqual tested vaccines against norovirus and respiratory syncytial virus, two studies pointedly called out in the IOM report as unnecessary. Chimps are no longer needed for such work, the report said.”
These recommendations reinforce findings that, although chimpanzees and humans share a similar genetic makeup, they can have very different responses to diseases and drugs. Chimpanzees, for example, are rarely affected by complications associated with hepatitis—including liver cirrhosis, which commonly occurs in infected humans. But chimpanzees and their great ape cousins—including humans—suffer greatly in conditions of captivity, confinement, and abuse.
It’s time that everyone in the medical and scientific communities—including those whose finances and careers prosper from keeping chimpanzees in labs—admit that chimpanzee experiments are completely unnecessary. The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act would responsibly phase out wasteful spending on warehousing chimpanzees for obsolete experiments — encouraging NIH to channel federal resources into research that will advance human medicine.
Pippin, a Medical Doctor, is a former animal researcher and director of academic affairs with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.