Created by on 12/19/2011

On December 15th, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee charged with reviewing the current use of chimpanzees in NIH-funded biomedical and behavioral research released its report, Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Accessing the Necessity. While the report does not endorse an outright ban on the use of chimpanzees in research, it recommends strict limits on their continued use. The committee recognized that the chimpanzee has been a valuable animal model in the past and devised certain criteria that must be met to allow their use in both biomedical and comparative genomic/behavioral research going forward. 

Biomedical Research Criteria:

1.      There is no other suitable model available, such as in vitro, non-human in vivo, or other models, for the research in question.

2.      The research in question cannot be performed ethically on human subjects.

3.      Forgoing the use of chimpanzees for the research in question will significantly slow or prevent important advancements to prevent, control and/or treat life-threatening or debilitation conditions

Comparative Genomics and Behavioral Research Criteria:

1.      Studies provide otherwise unattainable insight into comparative genomics, normal and abnormal behavior, mental health, emotion, or cognition.

2.      All experiments are performed on acquiescent animals, in a manner that minimizes pain and distress, and is minimally invasive.

Using these criteria, the committee concluded that monoclonal antibodies already in the development pipeline may require the continued use of chimpanzees. In addition, research on comparative genomics and behavioral research that informs our understanding of human development, disease mechanisms, and susceptibility could be allowed. The committee, however, was unable to reach consensus on the necessity of the chimpanzee in the development of a prophylactic hepatitis C vaccine. Newly emerging diseases may require the use of chimpanzees in the future if no other non-chimpanzee models or technologies are suitable, the committee noted.   

In response to the report’s release, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), held a press briefing and released a statement announcing that the agency will accept the IOM committee’s recommendations. In doing so, NIH will establish a working group within the Council of Councils to provide advice on both the implementation of the guidelines and the size and placement of the current chimpanzee population owned and supported by the agency. This working group will review ongoing NIH research using chimpanzees on a project-by-project basis; those not meeting the criteria will be phased out. Future projects proposing to use chimpanzees will be allowed to proceed only if they meet the IOM’s criteria. In response to Dr. Collins’ statement, FASEB sent a letter expressing our appreciation for his support of the important role chimpanzees have served in advancing human health in the past, the continued need for chimpanzees in monoclonal antibody and hepatitis C research, and the possible need for their use in future research.