There’s huge news today in biomedical research — a little outside my core topics, but so important that I thought it was worth highlighting for you anyway.
A report by the Institute of Medicine has declared that most research on chimps in the United States is unnecessary and should cease. Experiments should only continue if strict criteria are met:
- If there is no other model or animal in which the research can be performed
- If the research cannot be performed ethically on humans
- If not using chimps will “prevent or significantly hinder advances necessary to prevent or treat life-threatening or debilitating conditions.
Other animal models and cell-based research have supplanted the need for chimps and so most research using them is no longer necessary, the IOM said. In a statement released this morning, Dr. Jeffrey Kahn of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, who chaired the report committee, said:
The committee concluded that research use of animals that are so closely related to humans should not proceed unless it offers insights not possible with other animal models and unless it is of sufficient scientific or health value to offset the moral costs. We found very few cases that satisfy these criteria.
Two of those cases may be development of monoclonal antibodies and of a hepatitis C vaccine, he added.
The report also puts limits on non-invasive, behavioral research involving chimps. It says they may only be used if the research aims for otherwise-unattainable insights, if the animals are cooperating with the research, and if the animals are allowed to live in a natural habitat or otherwise appropriate physical and social environment while the research goes on.
The report was requested by the National Institutes of Health, and in a statement released immediately afterward, NIH director Dr. Francis X. Collins said NIH will accept the recommendations — and will not grant any new awards to research involving chimps until NIH works out a new approach.
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.
Elsewhere here at Wired, my colleague Brandon Keim has a detailed story with lots of background and links that is a must-read for understanding how US research got to this day. As Brandon points out, about 1,000 chimps are now kept for research in federal or private laboratories — but once this report’s recommendations are enacted, most of them could be ushered into a more free, more safe, more humane future for the first time.