Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity
For many years, experiments using chimpanzees have been instrumental in advancing scientific knowledge and have led to new medicines to prevent and treat life-threatening and debilitating diseases. However, recent advances in alternate research tools, including cell-based technologies and other animal models, have rendered chimpanzees largely unnecessary as research subjects.
Over the past decade, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has financed the largest amount of federal research involving chimpanzees. A 2010 announcement that the NIH intended to consolidate chimpanzee colonies, saving an estimated $2 million annually, generated significant feedback from the public, state officials, and members of Congress, and raised questions about the necessity for chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research.
At the request of the NIH and in response to congressional inquiry, the Institute of Medicine, in collaboration with the National Research Council, conducted an in-depth analysis of the scientific necessity of chimpanzees for NIH-funded biomedical and behavioral research.
A committee evaluated ongoing biomedical research to determine whether chimpanzees are necessary for research discoveries and to gauge the safety and efficacy of new medicines. In addition, the committee was asked to explore contemporary and anticipated behavioral research questions to determine if chimpanzees are necessary for progress in understanding social, neurological, and behavioral factors that influence the development, prevention, or treatment of disease. The committee was asked to describe chimpanzees’ unique attributes in order to determine when to use chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research.
The committee’s report, Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity, does not endorse an outright ban on chimpanzee research. Rather, it establishes a set of uniform, though restrictive, criteria to guide current and future research use of chimpanzees to treat, prevent or control public health challenges.
Applying Guiding Principles
The committee’s conclusions were heavily influenced by advances in non-chimpanzee models, such as genetically modified mice, clinical trials involving human volunteers, studies that can be done in an artificial environment outside of the living body, and technologies that leverage com- puter software or computer simulations.
Each NIH-supported center where chimpanzee research is performed has its own procedures to evaluate requests to use chimpanzees in studies. In the absence of uniform criteria, the committee developed three principles to assess research on chimpanzees.
- The knowledge gained must be necessary to advance the public’s health;
- There must be no other research model by which the knowledge could be obtained, and the research cannot be ethically performed on human subjects; and
- The animals used in the proposed research must be maintained either in ethologically appropriate physical and social environments or in natural habitats.
These principles were used to develop criteria to guide the use of chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research.