Most of the chimpanzees used for government-funded medical research will be retired and sent to sanctuaries after a three-year review by the National Institutes of Health found use of the animals rarely improved human health.
“We view today’s announcement as a milestone at the dawn of a new era, a compassionate era, in medical research,” NIH Director Francis S. Collins told reporters on a conference call.
The decision acts on 27 of 28 recommendations made in a January report by an NIH task force that encouraged the retirement of all but 50 of the almost 700 chimpanzees owned or supported by the government. A December 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies found that most biomedical research conducted with chimpanzees isn’t beneficial with the exception of efforts to develop a hepatitis C vaccine.
“This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for,” Kathleen Conlee, vice president of animal research issues at the Washington-based Humane Society of the U.S., said in a telephone interview. “Some of these chimpanzees are in their mid- or late 50s and have been in labs since they were born, some were caught in the wild and brought in. So we feel a real sense of urgency about this.”
At least 310 chimpanzees owned by the government will be retired, according to the NIH. More than 200 others had already been removed from testing. Chimpanzees share 98 percent of their DNA with humans.
While the NIH will keep 50 chimpanzees, it won’t breed the animals, a policy instituted in 1995. The NIH rejected one of the task force’s recommendations, which sought to ensure that chimpanzees were given a minimum of 1,000 square feet each. While Collins said the recommendation lacked sufficient scientific backing, he didn’t rule out implementing it in the future.
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