NIH Report Advises End to Most Chimp Studies Supported by the Agency

January 22, 2013

Sixteen research projects that use chimpanzees will face closure over the next few years if the National Institutes of Health accepts the recommendations of an internal working group's report, released on Tuesday.

The vast majority of the 360 research chimpanzees owned by the NIH should be retired and transferred to federal sanctuaries, the report advises. While not all of those projects will be discontinued right away—indeed, there are few shelters or funds available today to support the apes' retirement—their end must come soon, it says.

"Planning should start immediately," said Daniel H. Geschwind, the working group's co-chair and a geneticist at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The report calls on the agency to shut down most of the biomedical research on chimpanzees it supports, with only three projects, on immunology and infectious disease, allowed to continue. (The working group did not release details of the individual projects that could face closure.) Similarly, five of 13 studies on comparative genomics and behavioral research would end, with the rest allowed to continue in some form.

The committee did call for 50 chimpanzees to be maintained in a colony sensitive to their social and physical needs, should they be required for new research. It sets criteria for how those chimpanzees should be treated, along with stringent recommendations for review of any newly proposed research. It also echoes findings from the Institute of Medicine that smaller mammals, like genetically modified mice, have become far more effective for biomedical work, rendering chimpanzee-based research moot (The Chronicle, December 15, 2011).

Animal-welfare groups long opposed to chimpanzee research applauded the report, which will now be open to public review for two months. Until then, the NIH will continue its policy of not financing any new chimpanzee work, the agency said. It is expected to make a final decision on the group's recommendations by late March.