The National Institutes of Health suspended all new chimpanzee research and accepted new guidelines limiting existing work. The announcement came just hours after an expert committee of the Institute of Medicine released recommendations that most research did not need chimpanzees. According to the new guidelines, chimpanzees can only be used if the work is necessary to further human health and there is no other way to do so.
The suspension of new research will be in place at least until an Institute of Medicine working group can decide how to implement the new recommendations, The New York Times reported. The current guidelines still leave open the possibility that new research will be allowed in the future. The ambiguity of the guidelines allowed both opponents of chimpanzee research, such as The Humane Society of the United States, and advocates to praise the findings.
The committee found that two types of medical research may conceivably need chimpanzees going forward. In the first, researchers were divided as to whether research on a hepatitis C vaccine might require chimpanzees. The committee also concluded that, while other ways to conduct monoclonal antibody research exist, those techniques are not widespread and so existing chimpanzee research in this area should be allowed to continue.
All other invasive biomedical research on chimpanzees will only be allowed if there are no other ways to do so in other animals or in vitro experiments, and if not doing so would significantly slow the progress towards treatments for life-threatening or debilitating diseases, the guidelines stated. Behavioral research can only be done if it minimizes pain and distress to the animals and provides “otherwise unattainable insight into comparative genomics, normal and abnormal behavior, mental health, emotion or cognition,” the recommendations said.
The findings only apply to the 612 chimpanzees owned or financed by the government. There are an additional 325 chimpanzees in research facilities around the country. Not all of these chimpanzees are in research studies at one time.