A panel of scientists commissioned by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help decide the fate of 186 chimpanzees slated to be returned to active medical research after ten years in retirement, is being accused of bias by the Humane Society of the United States.
In a letter last month to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which organized the panel, the Humane Society’s chief scientific officer wrote that the “proposed committee appears to be designed to deliver a quick report supporting a future need for chimpanzee research, and not to produce an accurate and objective assessment of the issue.”
The NIH came under fire from New Mexico politicians and three US Senators in January after it decided to send the government-owned chimpanzees to a research facility in San Antonio, Texas, from the Alamogordo Primate Facility where they have lived for ten years, reported the Los Angeles Times. The NIH then turned to the IOM to organize a 15-member panel of scientists to advise on the usefulness of chimpanzee models for human disease research and whether there are suitable alternatives.
Since the Humane Society’s letter, three of the 15 panel members have stepped down, at least two of them because of past work with or support of research on chimpanzees. The Humane Society considers such work a conflict of interest and potential source of bias, reports Wired Science. The Society continues to voice concerns about bias among remaining members and asserts that the members do not have the scientific expertise required to evaluate alternatives to using chimpanzees as research subjects. The IOM insists that the panel is qualified and unbiased, but welcomes public comment on this issue.