Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Chimpanzees aren’t necessary for most medical research and shouldn’t be used in experiments unless there’s no alternative for life-threatening diseases, a U.S. science panel said.
The U.S. should restrict the use of chimpanzees and require the animals be housed in “ethologically appropriate” environments or in natural habitats, the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit committee that advises Congress and the government, recommended in a report today.
The review was sought by the U.S. National Institutes in response to complaints from U.S. senators and animal-rights groups. The U.S. and Gabon are the only countries that allow experimentation on the animals.
“Most current use of chimpanzees for biomedical research is unnecessary,” the committee said in its report. Only the U.S. and Gabon allow experiments on the animals.
There were 937 chimpanzees in captivity in the U.S. for medical research as of May, according to the science panel. The NIH owns or supports 436 of them, including 176 as of April at a New Mexico facility where no invasive research is allowed.
The NIH, based in Bethesda, Maryland, stopped breeding the chimpanzees in 1995, and the population is expected to die off by 2037, the nonprofit said. Animal rights groups led by the Washington-based Humane Society of the United States have called on Congress and the government to end chimpanzee research.
Consistent With Call
The committee’s recommendation “is consistent with what we’ve been calling for: a phase-out of invasive work,” said Kathleen Conlee, senior director for animal research issues at the Humane Society, in a telephone interview.
Francis Collins, the director of the NIH, said the recommendations “are thoughtful and scientifically well- founded.” He said he “intends to adopt the panel’s general conclusions,” according to an e-mail from an institute spokeswoman.
The only fields of research in which chimpanzee testing might be useful, the committee said, are vaccines for hepatitis C and treatments that employ monoclonal antibodies such as Roche Holding AG’s Herceptin for breast cancer.
An “immediate, outright ban” on experiments in chimpanzees would be “disruptive” to researchers, the panel said.
--Editors: Bruce Rule, Reg Gale
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