(NaturalNews) The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced in December 2011 that it will apply more stringent standards limiting government-funded experiments on chimpanzees. The announcement came after new recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), concluding that studies involving humans closest relatives in the animal kingdom are rarely necessary.
In 2010, the NIH asked the IOM to review the use of chimpanzees in medical research in light of new technologies which provide other options. The IOM stated in its report "The committee concludes that while the chimpanzee has been a valuable animal model in the past, most current biomedical research use of chimpanzees is not necessary. NIH Director Francis Collins announced the NIH's acceptance of the IOM committee's recommendations which will mean extensive changes at the federal medical research agency.
Medical science takes a (small) step toward compassion
Although the US is not yet following the lead of the European Union in banning research on the great apes, chimp research will now be approved for NIH funding only under very limited circumstances. The IOM has determined that future studies can use chimps only in studies which "provide otherwise unattainable insight into comparative genomics, normal and abnormal behavior, mental health, emotion or cognition." Committee chair Jeffrey Kahn of Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics stated that "Research use of animals that are so closely related to humans should not proceed unless it offers insights not possible with other animal models and unless it is of sufficient scientific or health value to offset the moral costs."
The new standards for chimp research also require that all experiments must be performed "in a manner that minimizes pain and distress, and is minimally invasive." Researchers conducting chimpanzee studies are now required to house the great apes in appropriate physical and social environments, or in natural habitats.
Some chimp research will continue
The committee reviewed NIH research files to determine what projects might fit the new strict criteria. They found only a few possible cases, such as test vaccines against hepatitis, since chimpanzees and humans are the only two species susceptible to HCV infection, and no other suitable animal models currently exist to test a vaccine. However, the panel concluded chimps should not be used in cancer studies or to test most drugs.
Collins said he would move as quickly as possible to implement the new recommendations, reviewing ongoing research with NIH-owned chimpanzees on a "project-by project" basis. Collins did not define how such a review might take. He said that projects which do not meet the new standards "will be phased out, but in a fashion that preserves the value of research already conducted." He estimated the new requirements meant that 50 percent of current studies involving chimps could be eliminated. He also said the agency will not accept any new applications for grants involving chimps pending the development of new rules based on the IOM's recommendations. "Effective immediately, NIH will not issue any new awards for research involving chimpanzees until processes for implementing the recommendations are in place."
The NIH currently has more than 600 chimpanzees in its research facilities. Collins told reporters the agency will determine what to do with these animals in light of the new guidelines. Some of them may be kept for research in the event of a global disease pandemic.
The new NIH standards will not apply to privately funded research. In an article published in the journal science, Kahn urged corporations to use the new guidelines. The pharmaceutical corporation GlaxoSmithKline has adopted an official policy against the use of great apes in research.
Animal rights groups welcomed the IOM report, while calling for further measures against animal testing. A representation of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) stated that "a blanket denunciation of all experiments on chimpanzees should be the next step."