LATimes.com - Chimpanzees remain indispensable for biomedical and behavioral research that benefits humans, but only in a small number of circumstances and likely not for long, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine.
After nine months of deliberation, a panel of independent experts judged that most current experiments involving man's closest primate relative can safely be discontinued. But the experts stopped short of calling on the federal government to retire all of about 600 chimps in its care, cautioning that unseen threats to human health "may require the future use of the chimpanzee."
The director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, said he accepted the panel's recommendations and promised to name a working group to figure out how to implement them.
In a news conference Thursday, Collins predicted that about half of the 37 NIH-sponsored studies that use chimpanzees would be phased out. The working group will consider how many chimpanzees the federal research agency should keep in captivity for possible use and how many can be retired to sanctuaries scattered across the country, he said.
The NIH asked the Institute of Medicine for advice on using chimps in biomedical experiments last December after the agency ordered a group of retired animals housed at a government holding facility in Alamagordo, N.M., moved to an active research site in Texas. The proposal drew howls of protest from animal rights activists, primatologists and a small group of lawmakers who have tried and failed repeatedly to pass legislation banning the use of chimps in biomedical research.
The United States and the African nation of Gabon are the only countries that still permit active experimentation using chimpanzees, a species that exhibits clear signs of love, complex social organization, self-awareness and distress.
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Written by Melissa Healy
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