Washington Update

Primate Research, Adoption, and Canine Studies Are Key Areas in Senate Appropriations Bills

By: Naomi Charalambakis
Wednesday, November 18, 2020

On November 10, Senate Appropriations Committee released drafts of all 12 fiscal year (FY) 2021 annual spending bills. Several bills and accompanying explanatory statements addressed biomedical research with animals, including Labor Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS), and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (MilCon VA). These Committees appropriate funds to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), respectively, each of which use animal research to advance scientific and medical discovery.

The Senate LHHS Committee discussed four key areas in its explanatory statement: primate research, post-research animal adoption, swine research, and chimpanzee relocation. In contrast to the House LHHS report, which mandated NIH accelerate efforts to reduce the use of nonhuman primate research, the Senate Committee acknowledged the importance of nonhuman primates in biomedical research for developing vaccines and treatments for public health. Furthermore, the Committee noted how efforts to reduce nonhuman primate research is inconsistent with ongoing Congressional mandates to pursue work that requires these models.

Post-research animal adoption was another key area of difference between the House and Senate versions. Whereas the House encouraged extramural grantees to implement comprehensive post-research adoption policies similar to that of the NIH intramural program, the Senate expressed concern that such sweeping requirements would create additional financial and administrative burden. While numerous institutions currently have adoption policies in place, the Public Health Service Policy that oversees NIH prohibits the use of federal funds for animal adoption.

Swine research was also highlighted in the Senate LHHS explanatory statement, an issue the House Committee did not address. Recognizing the growing value of large animal models in facilitating the translation of basic research to treatments and cures, the Committee urged NIH to elevate the pig to “model organism status.” This term is widely used in the research community to describe species that allow for the study of a wide range of biological phenomena. Given the similarities between human and pig anatomy and physiology, research with pigs has enabled discoveries toward multiple diseases and conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s.

Finally, the Senate LHHS Committee reiterated concerns raised by the NIH Office of Laboratory Welfare (OLAW) in a recent statement regarding chimpanzee relocation. Although the CHIMP Act Amendments of 2013 requires NIH to retire chimpanzees to chimp sanctuaries, both OLAW officials and the Senate Committee recommended that terminally ill and frail chimpanzees remain in current locations to ensure optimal health and welfare. This language contrasts with the House version that urges chimp relocation regardless of their health status.

In a separate funding package, the Senate MilCon VA bill prohibits federal funding for canine research unless the VA Secretary approves such research in writing. Research projects must fulfill a list of specific criteria, including consensus that scientific objectives can only be met with canines. Additionally, by the end of the calendar year, the Secretary must submit a report to Congress outlining the agency’s plan to eliminate or reduce research in canines, felines, or nonhuman primates no later than five years after the law is enacted. By comparison, the House bill contains stricter language, banning federal funding of canine research with no exceptions.

The House and Senate Committees will now proceed with conference deliberations to determine final appropriations language.