Finally, it's not necessary to abuse Chimps. What about other animals? BBB
December 15, 2011
Expert panel urges reduction in use of chimpanzees for medical experiments
By Chris Adams | McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — Saying that chimpanzees are "not necessary for most biomedical research," an expert scientific panel said Thursday that controversial experiments on the great apes should be sharply curtailed.
The panel from the Institute of Medicine weighed in on the contentious issue of whether chimps — one of man’s closest genetic cousins — should be used to help medical researchers understand and combat human disease.
The panel decided that most of the time, the answer was no.
“While the chimpanzee has been a valuable animal model in past research, most current use of chimpanzees for biomedical research is unnecessary,” the panel said in its conclusions.
But in a 190-page report released Thursday, the panel didn’t completely rule out the use of chimps for research, saying there are some situations where they still could prove useful. Beyond that, experimenting on chimps could become useful in later years if new diseases emerge or existing ones re-emerge.
For the most part, however, the panel determined that chimps as research subject weren’t as valuable as they once were.
“Science is evolving. We have alternative ways of testing drugs,” said committee member Warner Greene, director of the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology at the University of California, San Francisco. He noted that the last two blockbuster hepatitis drugs were produced without using chimpanzees, and said that under the committee’s new guidelines “many existing studies that use chimps would not clear the bar.”
The National Institutes of Health, the nation’s premiere biomedical research institution and the funder of much of the nation’s chimp research, has said that use of the animals is crucial to understanding and combating diseases such as hepatitis C.
NIH Director Francis Collins is scheduled to talk about the Institute of Medicine’s findings Thursday afternoon.
The report said that committee members split on whether chimpanzees were necessary to help develop a preventive hepatitis C vaccine, or how much chimp use would accelerate such work. The committee said that research to develop a therapeutic vaccine for people already infected with hepatitis C can be performed without the use of chimps.
The committee said chimps should only be used in biomedical research if there is “no other suitable model available,” the research “cannot be performed ethically on human subjects” and forgoing chimps would “significantly slow or prevent” important advances.
The Institute of Medicine’s findings largely echoed a McClatchy Newspapers series from April that examined the ethics and science of chimpanzee research.
While controversies over chimpanzee and other great ape research have simmered for years, the issue boiled over last year when the NIH said it planned to move about 180 chimps from a facility in New Mexico — where they had been withheld from experimentation — to one in Texas, where they would be thrown into the testing mix. Animal rights groups protested, saying the chimps had endured enough and that they should be retired to a grassy sanctuary.
Under pressure from activists and some members of Congress, the NIH asked for the Institute of Medicine study. The IOM held public meetings, and took more than 5,700 comments from the public.
But even before Thursday’s findings, McClatchy found that science had moved beyond chimps. Relying on tens of thousands of pages of never-before-published medical records on the New Mexico chimps, McClatchy found that the medical and psychological impact on the chimps was far greater than previously known. Beyond that, scientists were increasingly wary of using chimps in research, partly for ethical reasons and partly because science no longer demanded it.
The reaction to the McClatchy report, “Life in the Lab,” was swift, with hundreds of readers from around the world emailing McClatchy and many citing the stories in their comments to the Institute of Medicine panel.
A bill that would ban the use of great apes, including chimpanzees, has gained steam in Congress, and one of the key animal-rights groups involved in the chimpanzee debate urged its followers to write Congress, citing McClatchy’s “groundbreaking” report and noting that the “McClatchy series constitutes the most compelling evidence yet why chimpanzee experimentation should end now.”
In September, Scientific American — one of the nation’s premier scientific publications — cited McClatchy’s findings in an editorial headlined “Ban Chimp Testing: Why it is time to end invasive biomedical research on chimpanzees.” The magazine’s editorial highlighted Bobby, one of the chimps McClatchy had singled out when detailing the psychological impact of medical experimentation.
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