IOM/NIH: Chimpanzee Use “Not Necessary”

Update: On June 26, 2013, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) accepted nearly all IOM recommendations and announced its decision to retire nearly 90% of its chimpanzees. Read the full text of NIH’s decision here.


In 2011, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) requested that the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (NAS/IOM) conduct a study on the use and necessity of chimpanzees in research for the advancement of public health. The IOM formed the Committee on Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research, and issued its report and recommendations after a nine-month study.

IOM recommendations

The IOM committee issued its report in December 2011 on the use of chimpanzees in research and could not find any area of current biomedical research that requires the use of chimpanzees. The Committee concluded that any possible future use must meet strict criteria. NIH immediately committed to follow IOM recommendations and suspended all new grant applications for chimpanzee use in research. In February 2012, the NIH convened an advisory Council of Councils to examine existing chimpanzee use in NIH-supported research and to determine how to best meet IOM recommendations. The Council also examined the size and placement of the active and inactive populations of NIH-owned or -supported chimpanzees, and presented a report on how NIH should implement IOM recommendations in early 2013.

Click here for more on the Council's report.

Stringent limits on chimpanzee use

The IOM committee concluded:

"... that research use of animals so closely related to humans should not proceed unless it offers insights not possible with other models and unless it is of sufficient scientific or health value to offset moral costs. We found very few cases that satisfy these criteria."

The committee proposed three principles to assess current and potential future research using chimpanzees:

• That the knowledge gained must be necessary to advance the public’s health
• There must be no other research model by which the knowledge could be obtained, and the research cannot be ethically performed on human subjects
• The animals used in the proposed research must be maintained either in ethologically appropriate physical and social environments (i.e., as would occur in their natural environment) or in natural habitats

Advances in research alternatives and methods have rendered chimpanzees nonessential as research subjects. While the committee did not go far enough to endorse an outright ban on chimpanzee research, it noted that:

"... the present trajectory of scientific research indicates a decreasing need for the use of chimpanzees ... and that past use fails to predict future necessity."

When this report was released, it was Project R&R's belief that if the IOM’s recommended and restrictive criteria for the use of chimpanzees in chimpanzee research are applied scrupulously, they will in fact end all chimpanzee use. It cannot be demonstrated that any chimpanzee research would meet all of these criteria and therefore, these criteria will de facto be an end to all invasive chimpanzee research. Indeed, on June 26, 2013 the National Institutes of Health announced its intention to retire all but 50 of its chimpanzees from biomedical research, and on November 17, 2015 the NIH announced that it would no longer maintain this reserve colony of 50, and that all federally owned chimpanzees were, effective immediately, eligible for retirement.

For more details on the committee's report, read the IOM Report at a Glance.

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