Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Are Chimpanzees Necessary for Biomedical Research?

In December 2011, the Institute of Medicine released a report that sought to assess the current and future necessity of using chimpanzees as a research model in publicly funded biomedical and behavioral research. In the past, the use of chimpanzees in research has lead to many advances in treating life-threatening diseases. However, as alternative research tools become available and public debate about the necessity of using chimpanzees in research, the National Institutes of Health in collaboration with the National Research Council, asked a committee of experts to conduct an in-depth analysis into the subject and to come back with their recommendations.

The committee's report does not endorse an outright ban on the use of chimpanzees in research, but instead establishes a uniform criteria to restrict use. These criteria for biomedical research are:

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 on human subjects; and
3. The animals used in the proposed research must be maintained either in ethologically appropriate physical and social environments or in natural habitats.

In the case of comparative genomics and behavioral research, the criteria limits studies that meet the following criteria.

1. Studies provide otherwise unattainable insight into comparative genomics, normal and abnormal behavior, mental health, emotion, or cognition, and
2. All experiments are performed on acquiescent animals, using techniques that are minimally invasive, and in a manner that minimizes pain and distress.

They also go add that animals used in behavioral or genomic research must also be maintained in appropriate physical and social habitats, as above. The report also discusses the types of current and future research in which it is necessary to continue using chimpanzees as models, including research on monoclonal antibodies, hepatitis C, and studying cognition.

What are your thoughts on the report? Do you think there should be an outright ban on the use of chimpanzees in research, or do agree with the committee, that such a ban would be a mistake? Do you agree with the criteria, or do you think that more or less restrictive measures should be put in place?

You can read a summary of the report, as well as find out more information about the IOM panel here.

Full report available at the National Academies Press web site.

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