The National Institutes of Health will cease scientific experimentation on chimpanzees in federally-funded laboratories, if it accepts the findings of a report released earlier this week.
The report instructs the NIH to transfer some 300 chimpanzees — which have been used for biomedical research and experimentation — to federal animal shelters. About 50 will be kept in a secure facility, in case scientists ever need to run tests on chimpanzees specifically.
“Although the chimpanzee has been a valuable animal model in the past, most current biomedical use of chimpanzees is unnecessary,” said the report.
Federal scientists agree that in today’s research, chimpanzees could be substituted for smaller mammals, such as mice, without any loss of utility in biomedical experiments.
According to the report, chimpanzees were first used in tests because of their evolutionary similarities to humans.
“Chimpanzees are our closest biological relative among the nonhuman primates, and they share a close evolutionary and physiological relationship,” said the report. “In the past, this was the basis for rationalizing that chimpanzees must be valuable models for human diseases.”
Some supporters of animal testing suggested that the effort to cease testing on chimpanzees was due in part to NIH Director Francis Collins’s strong Christian views and private doubts about the validity of the theory of evolution.
Animal rights groups, however, applauded the recommendation to retire the chimpanzees.
The NIH will decide whether to accept the report’s suggestions sometime in March. In the meantime, there will be no new testing of chimpanzees.
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