Researchers have made strides in understanding human diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV-Aids by using chimpanzees as test subjects. But public and institutional pushback has caused the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to rein in its chimpanzee research in recent years. A report [pdf] released by a NIH working group Tuesday calls for an even more drastic cut in the number of chimpanzees used for research as well as a reform of the way that research is conducted in the future.
Chimpanzees are a valuable resource for medical research because they are the present-day species most closely related to humans. For the same reason, using chimps as test subjects brings up a whole crop of animal rights issues. The real question is if these animal studies are really necessary for medical research anymore. Read More
The governor of New Mexico wants a say in the future of 168 chimpanzees, and has pulled scientists, government officials, and even Jane Goodall into the debate.
The chimps in question are currently living (and have been for the last ten years) in a research reserve in the town of Alamogordo in New Mexico. They were all previously used as lab animals, where they are used to test and study HIV and Hepatitis C, life-threatening human diseases which don’t grow in any other animals.
The chimps were removed from laboratory testing after being taken from the Coulston Foundation, a research facility that was found to be abusing and neglecting its primate residents. The Alamogordo reserve was given the ten-year contract to house and care for the animals in 2001.
Harold Watson, who heads the chimpanzee research program for the National Center for Research Resources, said that with the end of the contract, it only makes sense to use the chimps for their original purpose. [The New York Times]
Last week, seemingly out of nowhere, Oklahoma State University president Burns Hargis pulled the plug on a federally funded research project that would have tested anthrax vaccines on baboons, and euthanized the primates at the experiment’s end. This week more details are beginning to come out regarding why Hargis made his call. Basically, his office says, they didn’t want to deal with possibly violent animal rights protesters.
The plan was to expose the animals to the spores of the attenuated Sterne strain of anthrax and eventually advance to the Ames strain — the fully encapsulated and virulent form of the bacterium that was used in the anthrax attacks of 2001 — and observe the pathobiology of infection. It was part of a collaborative multi-institutional NIH grant originally awarded for $12 million in 2004, and renewed in September of this year for another $14.3 million [The Scientist]. Oklahoma State would have hosted only a small part of the research, and the university’s animal testing committee approved the project unanimously.