Infectious Diseases

Chimpanzees have been experimentally infected with many of the same pathogens and viruses that afflict humans. Many human infectious diseases cause either only mild symptoms or no illness at all in chimpanzees. The only way to detect whether a chimpanzee has been “infected” is to examine cells for presence of the infectious agent. This is the case with HIV, the range of hepatitis viruses, and others.

Because the course of disease is so radically different in chimpanzees, their use in infectious disease research is to function mostly as a medium in which to grow viruses and antigens—essentially as living test tubes.

Often treatments and/or vaccines developed using chimpanzees are found to be inadequate for human use. Despite genetic similarities between chimpanzees and humans, complex physiological differences exist on the cellular level. For example, researchers tried unsuccessfully for more than two decades to develop an HIV/AIDS vaccine using chimpanzees and only a small handful of scientists continue to advocate for their use, even in the midst of such growing scientific arguments against it. Yet even those who champion the use of chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates in HIV research have admitted:

… Because AIDS is a complicated disease involving many molecular events in several different cell types, a vaccination that works in NHPs [nonhuman primates] may not work in humans. (1)

Mounting scientific evidence and superior new approaches provided further testimony to the ineffectiveness, inhumaneness, and unnecessary use of chimpanzees in areas of research in which they have traditionally been used. In reviewing the history of hepatitis, physician Paul Beeson (former Chairman of Medicine at Emory and Yale Medical Schools) stated, “Progress in the understanding and management of human disease must begin, and end, with studies of man…” (2)


(1) Sibal, LR and Samson, KJ. 2001. Nonhuman Primates: A Critical Role in Current Disease Research, ILAR Journal, 42(2):75
(2) Beeson, PB. 1979. The growth of knowledge about a disease: hepatitis. American Journal of Medicine, 67: 366-370

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