Created by on 06/01/2011

On May 26, 2011, Dr. Kevin Kregel, Professor of Integrative Physiology and Radiation Oncology at the University of Iowa and Chair of FASEB’s Subcommittee on Animals in Research and Education, testified at the first public meeting of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee appointed to address the use of chimpanzees in National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded research. NIH commissioned IOM to conduct this study when the impending transfer of 176 semi-retired chimpanzees from the Alamogordo Primate Facility to the Southwest National Primate Research Center caused extensive outcry from the public, including the former governor of New Mexico. 

Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, began the meeting by explaining the statement of task to the committee, which requires the panel to explore the “use of chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research that will be needed for the advancement of the public’s health.” While she acknowledged that the ethical argument would likely arise in their conversations, she urged the committee to try to focus solely on the scientific need for chimpanzees in research. Following Dr. Rockey’s charge, Dr. Harold Watson, Program Director for Nonhuman Primate Resources in the Division of Comparative Medicine at the National Center for Research Resources and Dr. Richard Nakamura, Scientific Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, discussed how their respective institutes utilize chimpanzees in research. 
A panel including Dr. Kregel, Dr. Jarrod Bailey, Geneticist and Scientific Advisor to the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, and Dr. John Pippin, Senior Medical and Research Adviser for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine was then convened to discuss whether there is a continued need for research using chimpanzees. Bailey claimed that chimpanzees do not make good models for human disease based on genetic differences, while Pippin spoke about alternative models in lieu of the use of chimps. Dr. Kregel’s presentation focused on why chimpanzees have, and continue to be, critical for the development of vaccines and treatments for viral infections, how they are used in the development and safety testing of monoclonal antibodies, their role in developing countermeasures against bioterrorism, and the importance of chimp research for sustaining wild chimp populations. An important point made by Dr. Kregel (and earlier in the meeting by Dr. Watson) is that while other countries do not themselves own chimpanzees, they are dependent on the use of U.S. owned chimps for their research. This underscored the importance and validity of this animal model in the development of therapeutics and in the safety testing of newly developed medications. In his conclusion, Dr. Kregel stated that, “Since we cannot predict the future, it would be irresponsible to abandon the use of a certain species, which is extremely close to humans in terms of physiology and immunology. We have a responsibility to the population of research chimpanzees in the U.S., but we also have a responsibility for the lives and health of human beings.” The IOM has two more meetings scheduled for August and October with the final report scheduled to be released in December.