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Comments on NIH Council Report on the Use of Chimpanzees in Research

March 23, 2013 • Posted in Project R&R News

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The NIH sought public input on its Council of Councils' (CoC) recommendations regarding the fate of federally owned chimpanzees in U.S. laboratories. In January, the CoC unanimously accepted its Working Group’s findings that nearly all federally owned chimpanzees should be retired and sent to federal sanctuary. The report also defined exemplary criteria for appropriate environments for future housing and care, and recommended immediately ending two-thirds of current biomedical research using chimpanzees.

The following comments were submitted by NEAVS and co-signers Fauna Foundation Sanctuary, Primate Rescue Center, and Chimps, Inc. We fully support nearly all the CoC recommendations, but see no reason, scientifically or ethically, to accept the recommendation to hold 50 chimpanzees for “future potential research.”

Ethologically Appropriate Physical and Social Environments:
Recommendation EA1

Chimpanzees must have the opportunity to live in sufficiently large, complex, multi-male, multi-female social groupings, ideally consisting of at least 7 individuals. Unless dictated by clearly documented medical or social circumstances, no chimpanzee should be required to live alone for extended periods of time. Pairs, trios, and even small groups of 4 to 6 individuals do not provide the social complexity required to meet the social needs of this cognitively advanced species. When chimpanzees need to be housed in groupings that are smaller than ideal for longer than necessary, for example, during routine veterinary examinations or when they are introduced to a new social group, this need should be regularly reviewed and documented by a veterinarian* and a primate behaviorist.

*In this context, the Working Group defines a “veterinarian” as a licensed, graduate veterinarian with demonstrated expertise in the clinical care and welfare of nonhuman primates (preferably chimpanzees) and who is directly responsible for the routine clinical care of the animal(s) in question.

Attention to the psychological needs of chimpanzees in laboratories, though already required by federal law, is not met in typical lab environments as attested to in the degree of behavioral symptoms many chimpanzees in or from labs exhibit. Only sanctuaries can consistently meet these needs, as their mission is to rehabilitate and provide restitution for chimpanzees who have been held in captivity and suffered trauma as a result of that confinement or research use.

Since psychological damage occurs at the individual level, an institutional approach to chimpanzee care is by definition insufficient, e.g. some traumatized chimpanzees may actually not be able to live with more than one or two other chimpanzees and require comfortable but not ever-changing environments to mitigate symptoms such as PTSD and other induced maladies. It is crucial that intervention and rehabilitation is individually based and tailored to specific strategies that serve a given individual at a given time in her/his life. At existing chimpanzee sanctuaries, through relationships with caregivers and/or other chimpanzees, there is an effort to rebuild agency, confidence, and competence physically and socially, in order to revitalize psychological coping strategies, environmental control, and positive anticipation. For asymptomatic chimpanzees all suggested definitions of “ethologically appropriate” environments should be adopted. For all other chimpanzees, such environments should be fine-tuned to meet the needs of those individual chimpanzees en route to a rehabilitative goal of restoring normal chimpanzee behavior and well-being. Interventions to meet this goal need to be continually reassessed and evaluated on the basis of how successful they are. The sole criteria of their success should be based on improvements, or lack thereof, of the individual chimpanzees on whose behalf they have been designed.

Ethologically Appropriate Physical and Social Environments:
Recommendation EA2

The density of the primary living space of chimpanzees should be at least 1,000 ft2 (93 m2) per individual. Therefore, the minimum outdoor enclosure size for a group of 7 animals should be 7,000 ft2 (651 m2).

This space requirement is far more in line with the territorial and roaming needs of free living chimpanzees, and is an ethical and long overdue improvement from the now still allowable requirement of 5’x5’x7’ caging. No existing laboratory could or does meet this new and justifiable criterion. Some existing sanctuaries already have acres of land to expand to further fulfill their mandate – lifetime care for rescued and retired chimpanzees. NIH has already unfortunately funded laboratories for expansion. For example, between 2000 and 2010 alone, laboratories received an estimated more than $7 million for 100% of construction costs to add on to their current facilities (see attachment). Because the federal sanctuary allows noninvasive behavioral research and post-mortem studies, all chimpanzees retired there can be considered a research resource even once all invasive biomedical research using chimpanzees has ended, and should qualify for 100% NIH construction grants as well.

Federal dollars are better spent on construction to expand and build at federal sanctuary, which “is the most species-appropriate environment currently available and thus is the preferred environment for long-term housing of chimpanzees no longer required for research” (Working Group Report, p. 6) or at private qualifying sanctuaries. NIH demonstrated that it would pay for lab construction and equipment costs for chimpanzees “permanently ineligible for biomedical research” in a $2.7 million grant to Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Grant 3U42OD011184-02S2 for the budget period of 09/12 through 07/13). This funded equipment for the transferred chimpanzees amounted to $130,000 (e.g. blood pressure monitors, mobile lift tables, stretchers, a dental unit, an I-Stat machine, and ECG machine, an anesthesia machine, a camera system, etc.), supplies and medicine were an additional $67,000, and facility alterations and renovations were just over $15,000. Salaries, benefits, personnel costs, consultant fees, travel, “other” costs, and indirect costs comprised the remainder of the $2.7 million grant.

Federal dollars would go further in sanctuaries than in laboratories, with more immediate implications for chimpanzee well-being. The CHIMP Act requires that at least 10% of construction costs come from non-federal contributions, whereas 100% of construction costs at laboratories have been funded since that law was enacted by the federal government. Labs are funded even in the absence of active protocol use and, as in the 2011 example above, for chimpanzees deemed ineligible for research. Sanctuary costs can and must be offset by transferring all supplies and equipment purchased with federal dollars from labs to sanctuaries. Details on such previous NIH funding are provided in the attachment.

Ethologically Appropriate Physical and Social Environments:
Recommendation EA3

Chimpanzees must be housed in environments that provide outdoor access year round. They should have access to natural substrates, such as grass, dirt, and mulch, to enhance environmental complexity.

Sanctuaries have long provided access to outdoors, natural substrates, and environmental complexity as a necessity for chimpanzee well-being. Apes and all primates possess inquisitive brains, strong needs for stimulation and investigation, and an innate relationship with the natural world. Sensory and motor limitations and deprivation in laboratory environments (even the most enriched lab does not meet qualifying sanctuary standards) constitute a major stressor which can and does affect both physical and psychological well-being. Decades of animal research as well as human data from prisoners of war and other forced confinement and isolation all attest to the devastating effects of barren environments on well-being and even life expectancy. A large percentage of chimpanzees currently owned or supported by NIH have lived some and likely most of their lives without access to the outdoors, night nesting materials, or a diet even close to what would have been available to them in their natural worlds. Some, many, or most have been forced to spend some, much, or most of their lives alone in a 5’x5’x7’ cage. For example, a large number of chimpanzees at NYU’s Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates spent decades in suspended 5’x5’x7’(actually slightly under 7’) cages prior to the lab closing. Some were rescued directly to sanctuary, others were rescued years later after being held and used by the Coulston Foundation – still others remain part of the U.S. lab population.

What is provided to chimpanzees in labs is in striking contrast to what they are offered in all North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) sanctuaries. In all cases, chimpanzees have free access to a variety of outdoor and indoor environments, blankets, and other nesting materials, a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and opportunities for outside foraging. Replicating their natural physical (as well as behavioral and social) world as much as possible (within the serious limitations of captivity) is the standard of care and key component of criteria for inclusion in NAPSA (and Global Federation of Sanctuaries certification). NAPSA includes Chimp Haven, Save the Chimps, Center for Great Apes, Fauna Foundation, Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, Chimps, Inc., and Primate Rescue Center. In addition to federal sanctuary, other NAPSA sanctuaries are willing and able to accept federal chimpanzees with appropriate federal funding.

Ethologically Appropriate Physical and Social Environments:
Recommendation EA4

Chimpanzees should have the opportunity to climb at least 20 ft (6.1 m) vertically. Moreover, their environment must provide enough climbing opportunities and space to allow all members of larger groups to travel, feed, and rest in elevated spaces.

This standard should be accepted with the caveat that aging, sick, or injured chimpanzees, of which most likely a significant number of federally-owned or supported chimpanzees can be deemed, must be provided with climbing and other housing structures that allow for their diminished or diminishing physical capacities. Several North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) sanctuaries have already changed or added to their construction and planning to provide for such special needs of individual chimpanzees in more protective environments that still allow and encourage natural behaviors. A good example is that of Sue Ellen, from LEMSIP and now at Fauna Sanctuary. She sustained a severe hip injury at LEMSIP as the result of an attack when she was inappropriately placed with Billy Jo, who she had been raised with as a brother, in an attempt to breed them. In addition, some in captivity show limitations as the result of progressing illness, natural aging, and/or manifesting symptoms from old lab injuries. While the 20 ft. climbing structures will be ideal for most chimpanzees, as with those requiring more individualized housing to meet their psychosocial needs, so too will chimpanzees with physical limitations require structures that, while providing “opportunity,” do so with protective design to meet physical limitations where required.

Ethologically Appropriate Physical and Social Environments:
Recommendation EA5

Progressive and ethologically appropriate management of chimpanzees must include provision of foraging opportunities and of diets that are varied, nutritious, and challenging to obtain and process.

All North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) sanctuaries meet or exceed this requirement. Therefore, it is an adoptable recommendation essential to providing for chimpanzee well-being. Historically, lab diets have consisted of predominantly chow with some fruits and vegetables. Sanctuaries have provided just the opposite: predominantly fruits, vegetables, and nuts supplemented with chow. In the wild, chimpanzee diets are extremely varied and an important social activity. Dietary variety and enriched procurement that mimics their natural needs should not be optional. Many qualifying sanctuaries, in addition to purchased produce, also offer further natural foraging of surrounding or planted trees or vegetation.

Ethologically Appropriate Physical and Social Environments:
Recommendation EA6

Chimpanzees must be provided with materials to construct new nests on a daily basis.

North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) sanctuaries meet and exceed this criterion. Most provide a variety of nesting options and then make choices available on an individual preference basis, ranging from plush blankets, straw, and other natural substrate, to large and several pieces of flat cardboard. Importantly, the individual chimpanzees decide on what and where he or she prefers to sleep, and their options are not limited.

Ethologically Appropriate Physical and Social Environments:
Recommendation EA7

The environmental enrichment program developed for chimpanzees must provide relevant opportunities for choice and self-determination.

Choice and self-determination are the most imperative improvements in the daily life of a chimpanzee after arriving to sanctuary from a laboratory. Without the ability to make choices, even if limited by confinement, rehabilitation will be more limited in its success and therefore so too will a chimpanzee’s well-being. The mindset, atmosphere, and goals of labs are unable to accommodate for this recommendation. Labs are designed to function with efficiency. Routine is critical to accomplishing this in any institution. As such, and as in even human institutions, the needs of individuals are often secondary or even sacrificed to the need for efficiency. While no doubt efforts are made at the hands of caring lab workers to meet individual needs, we have heard from dozens of lab workers who have been frustrated and defeated by their inability “to do more.” Worse, some have told us they have been chastised for “taking too long” and warned that they “have a job to do,” which did not in those cases include tending to individual needs of the animals for whose care they were responsible. However, this CoC recommendation is a core adopted policy and procedure of North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) sanctuaries. Opposite to the experience of some animal care workers in labs, sanctuaries have let go of caregivers who did not deeply hold and manifest this core value. This and other differences in what is provided in sanctuary versus what is or even can be provided in a functioning research facility set sanctuaries apart and should position them in the eyes of NIH as the only viable option for retirement placement of any and all federal chimpanzees. It is, in fact, an ideal partnership for NIH to engage in as it costs slightly less, offers significantly more, and is a direct response to public and legislative sentiment that it is time to retire and provide better care for our federal population of chimpanzees.

Ethologically Appropriate Physical and Social Environments:
Recommendation EA8

Chimpanzee management staff must include experienced and trained behaviorists, animal trainers, and enrichment specialists to foster positive human-animal relationships and provide cognitive stimulation. Given the importance of trainer/animal ratios in maintaining trained behaviors, a chimpanzee population of 50 should have at least 2 dedicated staff members with this type of expertise. Positive reinforcement training is the only acceptable method of modifying behaviors to facilitate animal care and fulfillment of management needs. Training plans should be developed for each animal, and progress toward achieving established benchmarks should be documented.

Qualifying sanctuaries are directed, in most cases, by the founders who may go back 15 or even 20 years from when their sanctuary opened. Many now heading up sanctuaries come from experience in both laboratories and accredited zoos. Staff includes both employees with animal or human care work in various fields, as well personnel who continue to leave labs or zoos after years of “trying to make a difference.” Behaviorists and veterinarians with extensive great ape behavioral as well as physical knowledge are commonplace at sanctuaries willing and able to accept more chimpanzees. This recommendation should be accepted but extended to meet hiring practices that also recognize a “culture of care” (CoC report page 9). In addition to credentials to work with animals in captivity, it is necessary for all caregivers to hold values and an ethical perspective of respect and compassionate care to meet or exceed the physical, social, and psychological needs of the residents. This is the core requirement for the opportunity and privilege to be a part of the chimpanzee residents’ lives and provide for their well-being.

Ethologically Appropriate Physical and Social Environments:
Recommendation EA9

All personnel working with chimpanzees must receive training in core institutional values promoting psychological and behavioral well-being of chimpanzees in their care. These institutional core values should be publicly accessible.

Please see comments for EA8, which are repeated here.

Qualifying sanctuaries are directed, in most cases, by the founders who may go back 15 or even 20 years from when their sanctuary opened. Many now heading up sanctuaries come from experience in both laboratories and accredited zoos. Staff includes both employees with animal or human care work in various fields, as well personnel who continue to leave labs or zoos after years of “trying to make a difference.” Behaviorists and veterinarians with extensive great ape behavioral as well as physical knowledge are commonplace at sanctuaries willing and able to accept more chimpanzees. This recommendation should be accepted but extended to meet hiring practices that also recognize a “culture of care” (CoC report page 9). In addition to credentials to work with animals in captivity, it is necessary for all caregivers to hold values and an ethical perspective of respect and compassionate care to meet or exceed the physical, social, and psychological needs of the residents. This is the core requirement for the opportunity and privilege to be a part of the chimpanzee residents’ lives and provide for their well-being.

Ethologically Appropriate Physical and Social Environments:
Recommendation EA10

Chimpanzee records must document detailed individual animal social, physical, behavioral, and psychological requirements and these requirements should be used to design appropriate individualized chimpanzee management in the captive research environment.

As mentioned in our E1A comments, since psychological damage occurs at the individual level, an institutional approach to chimpanzee care is insufficient and as such we strongly support this recommendation for individualized care. Rehabilitation must be individually-based and tailored to specific strategies that serve an individual at a certain time in her/his life. At existing sanctuaries, the quality of relationships with caregivers can often be a prime route to fostering new, important, and more natural and positive relationships with other chimpanzees. Chimpanzees currently in labs may have been isolated from other chimpanzees previously in their lives as pets, in entertainment, or as subjects in cross-fostering and other areas of research. Such individuals will need caregivers to help them rebuild physical and social confidence and competence. Other chimpanzees may have spent time in healthy and functioning social groups and developed healthy social behaviors. As such, one size formulas will not meet the diversity of needs and strengths that chimpanzees retired from research manifest.

For example, Jeannie spent nine years alone in a cage undergoing intensive and invasive research before arriving at Fauna Sanctuary. She was hypervigilant, avoided social interactions with both humans and chimpanzees, and could not tolerate even minor changes in her environment. When anxious, Jeannie would typically exhibit a fear-grimace, scream continuously, rub her head to the point of severe hair loss, repeatedly hit herself on her head or chin, and pull at her eyelids or fingernails. This occurred in situations as when new objects were introduced into her enclosure (e.g., blankets, toys) as part of what was believed to be helpful enrichment – an intervention that had to be adjusted to what she could tolerate and over years built. Her outbursts remained largely unpredictable, easily triggered, and initially difficult or impossible to attenuate. Fauna developed an individualized care plan and goals for Jeannie. Over nine years, her outbursts subsided significantly but only ceased completely toward the last years of her life.

Jeannie’s recovery came in large part from a few one-on-one relationships with attentive humans. Eventually she was able to live for some amounts of times with one or two specific chimpanzees at the sanctuary. At Fauna, chimpanzees are allowed a fission-fusion lifestyle similar to what would be found in the wild. The chimpanzees themselves decide who they will live with, for how long, or even to spend time alone. Efforts were successful. Jeannie came to know how to relax, spent hours basking in the sun, or in her outside enclosure at will. Progress like this occurs only when the sole criteria for well-being is measured by successful amelioration or lessening of psychological, social, or behavioral symptoms. Merely using general criteria for what should typically be provided is insufficient.

Chimpanzee Research Colony Size and Placement: Recommendation SP1

The majority of NIH-owned chimpanzees should be designated for retirement and transferred to the federal sanctuary system. Planning should start immediately to expand current facilities to accommodate these chimpanzees. The federal sanctuary system is the most species-appropriate environment currently available and thus is the preferred environment for long-term housing of chimpanzees no longer required for research.

We are aware that NIH is concerned about sanctuary funding. Retiring chimpanzees to sanctuary can be funded even in the absence of new sources of dollars. While additional funding should be pursued, the lifetime care of federally-owned/supported chimpanzees is neither a new expense nor an expense and responsibility of the federal government that changes because chimpanzees are transferred to sanctuary. Such transfer will hold only positive changes. The costs will be somewhat less and the quality of life for the chimpanzees overwhelmingly better. NIH has awarded grants to labs for some of the same purposes that federal sanctuary would use the money (such as voluntary, noninvasive behavioral research, post-mortem research, facility maintenance, and care of chimpanzees not used in research). The same funds that already support chimpanzees in labs can and must be reallocated to support those same chimpanzees in sanctuary. In fact, a 2012 grant received by New Iberia Research Center states the “award provides funding for the maintenance and transport of the chimpanzees, no funds may be used to conduct animal subjects research.”

Labs have received millions of federal dollars for facility construction and housing for chimpanzees. Between 2000 and 2010 alone, labs received more than $7 million just for construction to add on to their current facilities (which will not go to waste, as materials and supplies purchased with federal dollars can and should be transferred to federal sanctuary). Labs receive millions of dollars annually to house chimpanzees. Such costs would continue even if retirement in sanctuary had not been recommended. Five labs received nearly $28 million in 2008 and $33 million in 2009 from NIH for housing and maintenance type grants (some grants include support for other nonhuman primates in addition to chimpanzees.) Yet labs cannot meet CoC recommendations, which we urge NIH to adopt.

Because some construction would be necessary to meet CoC guidelines, these costs will be accrued whether chimpanzees remain in labs or are transferred to sanctuary. Sanctuaries can provide superior facilities at a portion of the cost of labs. Further, increasing numbers at federal sanctuary allows the facility to meet economy of scale while 100% funding allows them to decrease indirect/fundraising costs for new chimpanzees. Federal dollars would go further in sanctuaries: private donations already meet CHIMP Act matching criteria for existing retirees and more of the funding can be spent directly on the chimpanzees.

Hundreds of chimpanzees who have been subjected to years of laboratory confinement and research deserve to live out the remainder of their lives in sanctuaries expert in providing for their well-being in ethologically appropriate environments that no lab can provide. NIH has liberty and discretion as to where and how to appropriate funds to house chimpanzees. See attachment for more details.

Chimpanzee Research Colony Size and Placement: Recommendation SP2

A small population of chimpanzees should be maintained for future potential research that meets the IOM principles and criteria. Based on an assessment of current research protocols and interviews with content experts and current research facility administrators, this colony is estimated to require approximately 50 chimpanzees. The size and placement of this colony should be reassessed on a frequent basis (approximately every 5 years) to ensure that such a colony is still actually needed and that the animals are not overused.

After systematic review of over 30 years of chimpanzee use in many areas of human disease research, including AIDS and hepatitis, the following conclusions are scientifically supported: their use in research has declined massively; they are rarely used today; they have proven to be poor models in many areas, including HIV/AIDS, and limited models in hepatitis C; their use in cancer and heart research has been almost non-existent and therefore non-essential; there is burgeoning evidence of major and widespread genetic differences showing why chimpanzees are not and never will be models for human research. None of this would be true if chimpanzees were a crucial and indispensable research model.

Thus, all chimpanzees in labs must be retired to sanctuaries. Allowing 50 to remain available would be ethically, fiscally, and scientifically indefensible considering: the use of chimpanzees for biomedical research has declined dramatically and chimpanzees have been determined to be unnecessary in nearly all areas of current biomedical use; a significant number of chimpanzees in labs are elderly, have inadequate medical records, have been used in multiple areas of research, and are suffering physically and psychologically; retirement to sanctuary would be beneficial for the chimpanzees’ well-being; labs cannot meet the ethologically appropriate criteria established by the CoC; and retiring chimpanzees to sanctuary would be economically beneficial to the American public – in tax dollar savings and reallocation of remaining federal funds to more promising areas of research. Given the trajectory from a once-held belief that chimpanzees were a kind of “magic bullet” to study important areas for human research, to rapid and declining use of them, to a now minimal use and no “current need” in most areas of research (the exception was hep C that was actually a 50/50 split vote by the Institute of Medicine’s chimpanzee study group – a vote supported by a systematic review study showing there has been a 50-60% decrease in their use over the past 30 years while the use of non-animal hep C research methods has increased 80-fold over the same period), it would be a weak scientific assumption to posit they would one day resurrect as the sole or most valuable model in the future. Furthermore, scientists from no less than the US Department of Defense and FDA have testified they see no need for future use even in the event of new or emerging threats to the health and well-being of the public. In considering this recommendation to hold 50 for possible future use, we ask that NIH carefully weigh the scientific testimonies presented to the IOM, which did not say there would be a future need for chimpanzees, but rather stated the “committee cannot predict or forecast future need of the chimpanzee animal model.” Therefore, NIH must decide which side of that improbable probability it will place its resources and the well-being of all its chimpanzees.

Chimpanzee Research Colony Size and Placement: Recommendation SP3

This small chimpanzee colony should be maintained at a facility that has the characteristics of ethologically appropriate physical and social environments described in this report. Thus, plans should be made now to ensure that ethologically appropriate physical and social housing conditions will be available within 3 to 5 years. Maintaining the chimpanzee colony at a single facility could be advantageous to minimize costs and maximize management flexibility.

If NIH decides to maintain a colony of 50 chimpanzees, in order to remain consistent with the adoption of ethologically appropriate environment recommendations, those 50 chimpanzees must reside at federal sanctuary under a special provision contract for future potential use. It is not possible for laboratories to meet all of the recommended ethologically appropriate criteria for chimpanzee housing and care. Federal sanctuary is the only appropriate environment. Further, if NIH accepts the recommendation to hold 50 chimpanzees for potential future use, the 50 must come from only the federally-owned population. No privately-owned chimpanzees should be held with federal funding for potential future use, nor should any federal funds go towards maintaining any privately-owned chimpanzees in laboratories.

In addition, recommendation EA9 states, “All personnel working with chimpanzees must receive training in core institutional values promoting psychological and behavioral well-being of chimpanzees in their care. These institutional core values should be publicly accessible.” Current practice has not required public or private laboratories to make available any or all details on how plans for the psychological and behavioral well-being of primates are developed, met, and reviewed. As it stands, USDA allows a simple description of “plans” to meet and enhance the psychological well being of primates, with no established NIH or USDA definition of what it means to meet such psychological criteria. This practice has been responsible for psychological damage to hundreds of individual chimpanzees, and has been allowed to continue even after specific AWA requirements for that undefined “psychological well-being” were enacted. Sanctuaries, however, define, meet, and allow witness to how successful they have been in meeting the psychological, social, and physical needs of chimpanzees. NIH should acknowledge and reward sanctuaries for doing exemplary work for both federally-owned chimpanzees and others who were used in research that was federally funded.

Recommendation EA10 states, “Chimpanzee records must document detailed individual animal social, physical, behavioral, and psychological requirements and these requirements should be used to design appropriate individualized chimpanzee management in the captive research environment.” These records – even if held in private labs supported by federal funds – must be made publicly accessible otherwise this recommendation is too easily circumvented with devastating consequences to chimpanzees.

Chimpanzee Research Colony Size and Placement: Recommendation SP4

The demographic constitution of this small chimpanzee colony is important to maximize its utility for research. Ideally, the colony should be age and sex stratified, have an approximately 50:50 sex ratio, and be composed primarily of animals that are healthy and younger than 30 years. At least half of this population should be physiologically naïve to infection (e.g., hepatitis or HIV). When this colony is formed, best practices should be used for maintaining current social groupings, whenever possible, to minimize adverse stress.

In addition to the comments made in SP3, the population, if held, must not include any chimpanzees with previous research histories as that is a confounding variable for any possible future need for a “new or emerging” disease; must be allowed to remain with existing family or friends whose status might be “retired” to avoid the psychological impact of separation of long-standing bonds; must be provided for according to all other adopted CoC recommendations; and must not be allowed to breed and all measures taken to avoid any accidental breeding. Should new births add to the 50 number, then appropriate measures will be taken to allow the offspring to remain with their family and marginal members of the group of 50 should be retired so that at no time shall the number exceed 50. No private labs should be allowed to receive federal dollars to maintain this population as they cannot meet CoC recommended criteria. The public must be allowed open access to information on these 50 chimpanzees and any pending suggested research use. If a research protocol is proposed by a private lab, the general area of research, length of use, and housing conditions of the chimpanzees during the research protocol must be made available under FOIA rather than redacted as proprietary information. All aspects of the protocol must meet the conditions upon which the federal government allows federally-owned or supported chimpanzees to be used. NIH must require that the above information be publically available as a condition for private use of the chimpanzees and/or any other financial support of the protocol. Further, the private lab must be responsible for any and all costs to transfer the chimpanzees to sanctuary and their lifetime care for their post-protocol retirement.  

Chimpanzee Research Colony Size and Placement: Recommendation SP5

The NIH should review its funding priorities for comparative behavioral, cognitive, and genomics studies using chimpanzees. The NIH should consider targeting funding for low-burden projects that can be conducted in nontraditional research settings that can maintain ethologically appropriate environments or projects that use materials collected during routine veterinary examinations.

Because the CHIMP Act allows for noninvasive behavioral studies and requires that “necropsy reports on chimpanzees in the sanctuary system [be made] available on a reasonable basis to persons who conduct biomedical or behavioral research,” chimpanzees retired to federal sanctuary can be considered a research resource. Thus, federal sanctuary should receive the 100% funding currently awarded to labs. Federal sanctuary can allow chimpanzees to be used, but only for noninvasive behavioral or post-mortem research. As an example of prior funding for behavioral research that may be eligible to be performed in federal sanctuary, $99,000 was awarded to Georgia State University (Grant 5P01HD038051, 2000-2007) to “assess how well chimpanzees can recall and report objects, locations, and events they witnessed hours or days earlier in a large-scale environment.” As an example of prior funding for post-mortem research, $184,724 was awarded to Emory University (Grant 5P51RR000165) to use chimpanzees in “identifying differences in gene and protein expression…using unfixed tissue samples from short post-mortem time.” See attachment for more examples.

A portion of current and prior grant money awarded to labs is allocated to veterinary care, facility maintenance, husbandry, behavioral management, and enrichment and behavioral studies. Because these same activities are conducted and/or allowable at federal sanctuary, the funding currently provided to labs under housing and maintenance-type grants should qualify for transfer to federal sanctuary. For example, a grant awarded in August 2012 to Texas Biomed for over $523,000 acknowledged in its accompanying grant progress report that the program was strictly maintaining the chimpanzees and no research was being conducted (Grant 8U42OD011184-02). Another active grant, 3U42OD011184-02S2, notes funds for “routine husbandry, high quality behavioral management and enrichment are critical.” This grant specifically allocates money for maintaining “a stable, healthy, and well defined population of chimpanzees,” and behavioral services which include socialization, animal training, environmental enrichment, behavioral management, and staff training.

Active grant 8U42OD011197-12 for $2,064,160 at the MD Anderson Cancer Center has primary objectives of “colony care and maintenance,” and “provision of the infrastructure needed to conduct studies.” The type of studies is not specified, i.e. behavioral studies could be included. At the same facility (2003 through 2010), NIH awarded $27,143,626 (Grant 2U24RR015090) specifically for “the provision of animal husbandry and health (veterinary) care, provision and maintenance of physical facilities, allocation of animals, and generation of income.” Funds were allocated for studies on the value of environmental enrichment, which explored positive reinforcement training, presentation medium, housing types, nesting materials, response to novelty, control over enrichment, etc.

Chimpanzee Research Colony Size and Placement: Recommendation SP6

The NIH should not support any long-term maintenance of chimpanzees intended for research on new, emerging, or reemerging diseases in animal biosafety level 2 or greater biocontainment-level facilities.

We strongly agree with this recommendation. Joseph Bielitzki’s (DVM, MS, and former Program Manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) IOM testimony asserted what too few have considered carefully: the management nightmare of trying to house chimpanzees in biosafety level containment labs. Concerns include not only managing internal environments, including the unfeasible costs to do so, but more importantly managing escapes of chimpanzees infected with viruses deadly to humans. The likelihood of chimpanzee use leading to an efficacious vaccine for viruses of this nature is slim and could not mitigate the disastrous effects of the escape of an infected chimpanzee. Further, Bielitzki’s testimony attests to the unrealistic timeline that attempting to develop a vaccine using a chimpanzee model, even if otherwise feasible, would present. Essentially, as a government expert, his testimony minimizes if not eliminates all other hypothetical arguments regarding future need for chimpanzees in biocontainment facilities engaged in research to meet emergency needs of the U.S. human population. The doomsday scenario used by some to argue a need for “future potential research” is neither scientifically nor ethically defensible.

Chimpanzee Research Colony Size and Placement: Recommendation SP7

The NIH should not, on its own, revitalize breeding strategies to derive a population of chimpanzees for any research, including for new, emerging, or reemerging disease research.

We strongly agree with this for ethical, economic, and scientific reasons. Revitalizing breeding strategies would continue to waste limited research dollars. The current NIH administration has admirably taken the lead on responsibility for finally ending decades-long waste of taxpayer dollars and needless chimpanzee suffering. We applaud those efforts and strongly agree with this recommendation, and see no reason to undermine current NIH efforts with any possibility for continued federal breeding or federal funding for private breeding.

Chimpanzee Research Colony Size and Placement: Recommendation SP8

The NIH should collaborate with other federal agencies (i.e., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration) and departments (i.e., Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security) when considering any future plan for placement, maintenance, and use of chimpanzees in research in response to a new, emerging, or reemerging disease that could represent a national security risk to the United States.

It is imperative to remember that experts testified to the IOM that chimpanzees would be of little to no use in responding to national security risks. Joseph Bielitzki (DVM, MS, and former Program Manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) opined to the IOM that chimpanzees were “probably not” critical to U.S. health security. He cited the many years it takes to develop a vaccine, and that a health emergency would be over before anything could be developed, even with the use of chimpanzees. “Even for the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, the quickest to market took around 6 months, by which time the epidemic was over and the problem gone.” He cited maintenance costs for chimpanzees, at approximately half a million dollars per chimpanzee for lifetime care. James Swearengen, the Director of the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, told the IOM that he was “not aware of any historical or current use of chimpanzees in the U.S. in biodefense/for the Department of Defense,” and that he did not envision any future speculative need. Further addressing the need for chimpanzees to bring drugs to market, David Jacobson-Kram, PhD, of the Food and Drug Administration testified that if chimpanzee data were no longer available, this would have “no discernible effect” on adequate and timely review of applications. Thus, the weight of key government agencies attests to the improbable need for future chimpanzee use. As such, holding any for such possible but highly improbable need contradicts the testimony of several experts upon which the American public places its trust.

Chimpanzee Research Colony Size and Placement: Recommendation SP9

In light of evidence suggesting that research involving chimpanzees has rarely accelerated new discoveries or the advancement of human health for infectious diseases, with a few notable exceptions such as the hepatitis viruses, the NIH should emphasize the development and refinement of other approaches, especially alternative animal models (e.g., genetically altered mice), for research on new, emerging, and reemerging diseases.

We agree that funding modern, promising alternatives to research on chimpanzees is a better use of limited research funds, but we disagree with emphasizing funding different animal models. In 1986, NIH launched an initiative to breed chimpanzees that were thought to be useful, if not ideal, models for AIDS research. However, even the species whose DNA is most similar to humans, the chimpanzee, turned out not to be a “suitable” model for such research, leaving the federal government with “a surplus of several hundred chimpanzees that are no longer useful in medical research” that were being “warehoused in expensive federally funded research laboratory facilities” (Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions 2000 at 1-2).

Chimpanzees are not the only animal model that has resulted in limited research dollars being diverted from more promising non-animal research methods. It is critical to note and repeat for example that even within the one area of hepatitis C research the use of alternatives shows an 80-fold increase over the past 30 years. Mouse models also have been shown to be a limited, even wasteful, use of federal research dollars. A recent study showed nearly 150 drugs developed and tested on mice for use with human patients with sepsis, the leading cause of death in intensive care units, have failed. There was no correlation between the genetic responses of mice and those of humans. No matter how similar human and animal genes may be structurally, the regulatory processes vary to produce insurmountably different expression scenarios. The study of Alzheimer’s disease is a hallmark example of the failure of genetically modified (GM) mice, which has resulted in ineffective drugs and failed clinical trials due to the mouse version of Alzheimer’s being emphatically different from humans. Scientists recognize the severe limitations of GM mice and a need for a new direction. Rather than replacing chimpanzee use with that of other animals, the current scientific climate affords NIH new opportunities to explore and invest federal dollars in vast and truly promising areas of non-animal research.

Review Process: Recommendation RP1

The NIH should replace the Interagency Animal Models Committee with an independent Oversight Committee for Proposals Using Chimpanzees in NIH-supported Research (Oversight Committee) to advise on the proposed use of chimpanzees in research. The current Interagency Animal Models Committee is not considered independent from other individuals and bodies that review and approve grant applications to the NIH, contains no members of the public, and thus does not fully meet the spirit of the IOM principles and criteria.

We strongly agree with this recommendation. However, we would add that this independent oversight committee include scientists who are committed to and expert in alternatives and have studied the limitations of chimpanzee use rather than those with vested financial interest in promoting chimpanzees as a viable model. Any laboratory director or scientist who stands to fiscally benefit from the protocol being accepted and funded must be deemed a conflict of interest and not sit on such an oversight committee. Further, as did the IOM, a bioethicist (preferably with the relevant and extensive experience of having served on the chimpanzee study groups for the IOM committee or CoC itself) should be appointed, as he or she would bring needed expertise as to the benefit versus cost discussion.

Review Process: Recommendation RP2

The Oversight Committee should be separate from extramural initial review groups, intramural scientific program personnel, and Institute or Center directors. In addition, the Oversight Committee’s reviews should take place after the standard reviews and approvals by these entities. The Oversight Committee’s reviews will focus on whether the proposed research is consistent with the IOM principles and criteria for the use of chimpanzees in research.

We strongly agree with this recommendation.

Review Process: Recommendation RP3

The Oversight Committee should be comprised of individuals with the specific scientific, biomedical, and behavioral expertise needed to properly evaluate whether a grant, intramural program, contract, or other award mechanism supporting research using chimpanzees complies with the IOM principles and criteria.

We strongly agree with this recommendation. We also request that a representative of an animal protection organization with necessary expertise specifically in the use of chimpanzees be a member of the Oversight Committee.

Review Process: Recommendation RP4

Investigators seeking NIH funding to conduct research using chimpanzees must explain in their application how their proposed research complies with the IOM principles and criteria. This supplemental information must address all of the questions posed in the decision-making algorithm in this report and provide sufficient detail for consideration by the Oversight Committee. This information is in addition to the vertebrate animal section and/or applicable animal study protocol. The NIH might wish to develop a form or other suggested template for investigators to use for this purpose.

We strongly agree with this recommendation.

Review Process: Recommendation RP5

To ensure that the scientific use of chimpanzees is justified, the animal numbers and group sizes must be statistically justified before the NIH approves any proposed research project involving the use of chimpanzees.

Statistical justification must be based on the smallest number of individuals possible being used. Further, the length of study and harm to any chimpanzees used should be explicitly discussed in the proposal. As in guidelines for the use of humans in research, so too should there be criteria that allows chimpanzees to withdraw or be withdrawn from a protocol if he/she is unable to tolerate the research. This is not a new concept as some labs, specifically LEMSIP for example, based retirement criteria on which chimpanzees, in the words of the lab’s veterinarian, “could simply not tolerate further research use.” Such necessity to terminate their use must include harm and deterioration to their physical and/or psychological well-being. Further, it must be reiterated that in no case should studies whose endpoint is death or euthanasia be approved and that after one protocol use, the chimpanzee be permanently retired and not made available for multiple use.

Review Process: Recommendation RP6

Investigators need not include supplemental information on chimpanzee use for proposals involving the following, and these proposals will be exempt from Oversight Committee review:

  • The use of any biomaterials, including pathological specimens, collected and/or stored prior to submission of the research proposal, or as part of a research grant or contract that has undergone Oversight Committee review and approval, or as part of regular veterinary (health) examinations;
  • Other observational or non-interventional studies, such as behavioral observations in the wild that do not result in contact or otherwise interfere with the chimpanzees being observed; or
  • Noninvasive collection of samples from the wild in a manner that does not result in contact or otherwise interfere with the chimpanzees during the collection.

We agree with this recommendation.

Review Process: Recommendation RP7

The Oversight Committee review should take place after the Center or Institute director approves a proposal so that the key elements of the review are publicly accessible to the extent allowable by federal regulations. The Oversight Committee should review all requests for grants, contracts, intramural projects, and third-party projects rather than establishing a separate review process for each mechanism. Funding of an award for research involving the use of chimpanzees that has received an Institute or Center director’s approval will be conditional and subject to the subsequent evaluation by the Oversight Committee.

We strongly agree with this recommendation. The addition of a process to not allow private labs to withhold information about proposed NIH-funded research must be considered and imposed as criteria for grant awards and access to these remaining federal research chimpanzees. Withholding information from the public can contribute to negative consequences for chimpanzees in laboratories and fosters a culture of distrust regarding what is happening to animals in U.S. labs, a vital and growing concern of the American public. Current practice has not required public or private laboratories to make public any or all details on how plans for the psychological and behavioral well-being of primates are developed, implemented, and reviewed. As it stands, USDA allows a simple description of “plans” to provide for and enhance the psychological well-being of primates, with no established NIH or USDA definition of what it means to meet such psychological criteria. This practice has been responsible for the psychological damage of hundreds of individual chimpanzees, and has been allowed to continue even after specific AWA requirements for that undefined “psychological well-being” were enacted. Further, ample studies have documented how report of pain and distress levels for animals used in research have been inaccurate and minimize what the animal actually suffers. Thus, disclosure of all levels of pain, distress, and suffering must be made available and subject to challenge by veterinarians specifically experienced in chimpanzee care, including but not limited to those from NAPSA sanctuaries.

Review Process: Recommendation RP8

The Oversight Committee will base its reviews on the supplemental information provided by investigators on how the proposed research complies with the IOM principles and criteria and all relevant documents (including animal study protocols and grant applications) required to make informed determinations for all funding requests (grants, contracts, and intramural projects) and other requests to use chimpanzees (e.g., third-party projects).

We agree with this recommendation.

Review Process: Recommendation RP9

The Oversight Committee will determine whether each application meets or does not meet the IOM principles and criteria based on the votes of a majority of all voting members. At its members’ discretion, the Oversight Committee may vote on whether different components or parts of an application meet or do not meet the IOM principles and criteria.

We strongly agree with this recommendation. If different parts of an application do not meet the IOM principles and criteria, the Oversight Committee must have the authority to restrict all funding until such sections are brought into compliance.

Review of Currently Active NIH-Supported Research Using Chimpanzees

Please provide comments on the outcomes or recommendations provided in Section 4 of the Working Group’s report.

The grant names and numbers of the 30 research projects reviewed in Section 4 should be made publicly available as soon as possible. Without access to such information we cannot comment on the specific nature of the studies in question. As such, we ask that a specific and new public comment period on those studies be assured for not less than 30 days following the identification of those studies.

Biomedical research: We support the immediate termination of the 6 projects referred to in Section 4. It is assumed the 3 conditionally approved projects do not currently meet the CoC’s ethologically appropriate criteria, and should therefore not be renewed in the next upcoming project period unless the projects can meet all CoC criteria.

Comparative genomics and behavioral research: No projects should be renewed in the next upcoming project period unless they can be performed in sanctuary, meeting federal sanctuary’s requirements for noninvasive behavioral or post-mortem studies. When noninvasive research is a form of enrichment for chimpanzees, we support it. It can provide needed funding for their care via NIH grants. The research, however, must adhere to the same standards of care as research on humans in which participation is voluntary and can be withdrawn at any point. Such redirecting of funding for any current or future research in these areas will go a long way in helping NIH meet its obligation for the lifetime care of its chimpanzees as well as its obligation to federal sanctuary. There is no reason, scientifically or fiscally, to continue status quo funding of private labs for chimpanzee research.

Colony housing and care: As discussed in our comments for SP5, active grant project funding related to the housing and maintenance of chimpanzees in laboratories, regardless of use in research protocols, can and should be transferred immediately to federal sanctuary. This will result in cost savings for taxpayers, improved physical and psychological well-being of chimpanzees, and NIH’s ability to redirect savings to more promising non-animal research studies. Most recently, NIH has demonstrated that it can and will fund labs for construction of facilities, transfer of chimpanzees, and housing and maintenance of chimpanzees who are not eligible for use in research. The logical and fiscal appropriateness of NIH deciding to transfer all such funding is obvious to stakeholders in chimpanzee well-being and tax dollar use. If NIH does not adopt such a redirection of its grants, then a full explanation for why private labs will continue to benefit from tax dollars to house and maintain chimpanzees – at greater cost and less quality of life for the chimpanzees – rather than our federal sanctuary now benefiting from such funding, would be asked for and reasonably expected. That said, we remain optimistic this is an identified avenue for funding that NIH is committed to realizing.

Overall Comments

Provide input on any other issues not already covered by the comments you provided above.

NIH has been paying for chimpanzee care even in absence of their research use for years. The attached document outlines avenues for NIH to fund the retirement of chimpanzees. Only sanctuaries can provide the ethologically appropriate environments described in the CoC report. Thus, if NIH decides to maintain a colony of 50 chimpanzees, they must reside at federal sanctuary under a special provision contract. These 50 chimpanzees should come from the federally-owned population, and no federal funds should go towards maintaining privately-owned chimpanzees in labs.

The CoC’s report raises additional questions, including:

If private sanctuaries are willing and allowed to receive federally retired chimpanzees, will they receive 100% federal funding?

Is NIH responsible for 75% of care funding if chimpanzees are retired outside of Chimp Haven and/or outside of the CHIMP Act, or full 100% as NIH intended in its initial decision to transfer chimpanzees deemed ineligible for biomedical research from New Iberia Research Center to Texas Biomedical Research Institute?

The CoC report states, “All chimpanzee experiments done in the last 20 years have been survival experiments…funding for these experiments has included the cost of lifetime care." Please clarify what is meant by “funding…included the cost of lifetime care.” Do funds for lifetime care go beyond the grant periods, or only provide for care during the protocol?

Has the NIH grant to TX Biomed for the transfer of 111 chimpanzees now sent to Chimp Haven been transferred to Chimp Haven? Has NIH redirected the funding given NIH’s fiscal crisis? If TX Biomed was allowed to keep the funding, what was the reasoning behind the decision?

Does NIH plan to transfer lab housing and materials (e.g. chimp-gauge steel, structures, etc.) to sanctuary since they are transferable and NIH, to our knowledge, required contractors to provide Primadomes that were “re-locatable?”

If adopted, will the CoC recommendations apply to NIH-supported chimpanzees? Since NIH has supported privately-owned chimpanzees in labs even though they were not being used in research, will NIH continue to support these chimpanzees if they are sent to sanctuary?

Thank you for this opportunity to be a part of this important issue in U.S. research. We believe sanctuary is the only appropriate environment for retired chimpanzees. The signatories hold expertise in providing for chimpanzee lifetime care, providing funding for that care, and/or reasons why chimpanzees must no longer be used in research and retired. We are happy to provide any information that can help this process move forward.

We applaud NIH’s vision in ending chimpanzee research. We believe it will benefit not only chimpanzees, but also future research that can more effectively and efficiently help humans. Ending chimpanzee research is a necessary step in NIH continuing to realize its mission to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.

Co-Signers:

New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS)
Fauna Foundation Sanctuary
Primate Rescue Center
Chimps, Inc.

 

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