Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Fewer Chimps Are Being Used as Guinea Pigs

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Fewer Chimps Are Being Used as Guinea Pigs

Article excerpt

What do the United States and Gabon have in common?

They're the world's only countries that permit medical testing on chimpanzees, for one. But many scientists and animal advocates agree, whether with enthusiasm or reluctance, that the US will soon be leaving that list.

On Wednesday, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it would retire 50 chimpanzees, the last veterans of a once-robust chimp research program. The chimps will gradually be sent to a sanctuary in Keithville, Louisiana, as spots open up: right now, room exists for only 25.

The last 50, kept at facilities in Texas and New Mexico, were held onto as "reserves" after the NIH retired more than 300 in 2013. That decision followed an NIH-commissioned report from the Institute of Medicine, which encouraged strictly limiting the use of chimps in medical research.

Animal rights advocates, including those who argue that governments should recognize their "personhood," have spent decades fighting the perception that it's acceptable to subject humans' closest relatives to experiments and conditions that would never be approved for humans. But the NIH's decision appears to be based on just as much science, and practicality, as justice: Not a single scientist has applied to use the NIH's chimps for two and a half years.

"We have moved on from the time when research on chimpanzees was considered essential," NIH director Francis Collins told NBC.

But federal research money will still be used for experiments with other primates.

"If you're a scientist, a chimp is really a sort of last resort," the NIH's Harold Watson, who directed chimp research, explained to The Washington Post in 2011.

Drug makers and other researchers are increasingly turning away from chimps in favor of other primates, such as rhesus monkeys, but also an array of new technologies, which can be not only more accurate but also cheaper than using chimps for research. Release & Restitution, an advocacy group opposed to chimp testing, recommends that studies swap primates for tissue and cell research, or long- term human studies that are observational, not experimental. …

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