Created by on 12/18/2012 12:00:00 AM

On Tuesday, December 5th, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology issued an e-action alert as Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) attempted to bring an amended version of S 810, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (GAPCSA), to the floor for consideration. To date, the alert has generated over 1,400 letters to Senators.
The amended version of GAPCSA, drafted by Senator Cantwell, remains problematic. The definition of invasive research in the amended bill is still so broad as to prohibit restraining, tranquilizing, or anesthetizing non-acquiescent great apes. In addition, the legislation does not appear to permit research on great apes whose status in the wild is threatened by disease. This version of GAPCSA includes a contingency clause; however, allowing for the use of great apes in research for prevention, control, or treatment of a life-threatening or debilitating human condition. Under these circumstances, the Secretary of Health and Human Services would have the discretion to allow research on great apes but would have to consult with a group of “experts” – only one of which is knowledgeable about the disease or condition for which great apes are being proposed to be used. If the Secretary deems that the research should go forward, he/she must publish in the Federal Register a description of the study (including the anticipated duration); identification of the individual chimpanzees used; the number of anesthesia events, surgeries, and biopsies; the source of the research funding; and an explanation of the scientific evidence used to make the decision. While the contingency clause appears to be a step in the right direction, leaving the decision of whether research is considered scientifically sound in the hands of a politically appointed official is a dangerous precedent and appears to nullify the importance of the National Institutes of Health’s extensive, rigorous peer review system.
In mid-November, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis of the cost associated with implementation of the original bill and found that it would cost the government $56 million over four years. A revised analysis of the amended version considers its implementation to be cost neutral, because changes in the bill allow for great apes to be retired in place (i.e., in the laboratory). The bill, however, does not constitute a “cost savings” as its title implies.
Passage of GAPCSA would set precedent for legislatively prohibiting the use of a specific animal model in biomedical research and opening up the possibility of banning other research animals from being used in the future. FASEB President, Judith S. Bond, PhD, was quoted in a Nature blog as saying, “Government prohibiting the use of a research model is a frightening concept.”
It is likely that proponents of GAPCSA will continue to push for the bill’s passage in the Senate throughout the remainder of the 112th Congress. The biomedical community is urged to contact their Senator and continue to oppose GAPCSA.