NIH to Cut Back on Medical Research Using Chimpanzees

Statement by NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins on the Institute of Medicine report addressing the scientific need for the use of chimpanzees in research:

The use of animals in research has enabled scientists to identify new ways to treat illness, extend life, and improve health and well-being. Chimpanzees are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, providing exceptional insights into human biology and the need for special consideration and respect.  While used very selectively and in limited numbers for medical research, chimpanzees have served an important role in advancing human health in the past. However, new methods and technologies developed by the biomedical community have provided alternatives to the use of chimpanzees in several areas of research.  

In December 2010, the National Institutes of Health commissioned a study by the Institute of Medicine to assess whether chimpanzees are or will be necessary for biomedical and behavioral research.  The IOM now has issued its findings, with a primary recommendation that the use of chimpanzees in research be guided by a set of principles and criteria. The committee proposed three principles to analyze current and potential future research using chimpanzees.

1) That the knowledge gained must be necessary to advance the public’s health;

2) There must be no other research model by which the knowledge could be obtained, and the research cannot be ethically performed human on subjects; and

3) The animals used in the proposed research must be maintained either in ethologically appropriate physical and social environments (i.e., as would occur in their natural environment) or in natural habitats.

Based on its deliberations, the IOM committee concluded that “while the chimpanzee has been a valuable animal model in past research, most current use of chimpanzees for biomedical research is unnecessary.” The committee also concluded, however, that the following areas may continue to require the use of chimpanzees: some ongoing research on monoclonal antibody therapies, research on comparative genomics, and non-invasive studies of social and behavioral factors that affect the development, prevention, or treatment of disease.  The committee was unable to reach consensus on the necessity of the chimpanzee for the development of prophylactic hepatitis C virus vaccine. While the committee encouraged NIH to continue development of non-chimpanzee models and technologies, it acknowledged that new, emerging, or re-emerging diseases may present challenges that may require the use of chimpanzees. 

I have considered the report carefully and have decided to accept the IOM committee recommendations.  NIH is in the process of developing a complete plan for implementation of the IOM’s guiding principles and criteria. I will be assembling a working group within the NIH Council of Councils to provide advice on the implementation of the recommendations, and to consider the size and placement of the active and inactive populations of NIH-owned or -supported chimpanzees. We will not issue any new awards for research involving chimpanzees until processes for implementing the recommendations are in place. 

NIH is committed to conducting and supporting high-quality science in the interest of advancing public health, and to the humane care and use of animals used in NIH research. I am grateful to the IOM for their careful and thoughtful assessment of this important and sensitive topic.