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Science debates chimpanzee research

February 5, 2007 • Posted in Related News

Science reports U.S. is last country actively conducting biomedical research on chimpanzees1,133 “lab chimps” remain held

In an article exploring the current U.S. government moratorium on the breeding of more chimpanzees for government-supported research, Science revealed that the U.S. currently holds 1,133 individuals in research facilities. The report confirmed that the U.S. is the only remaining country in the world actively conducting research on captive chimpanzees, with the Netherlands in 2004 joining other countries with bans and with Japan and Liberia retiring their last chimpanzees to sanctuaries last year. According to Science, the cost to the U.S. taxpayer to maintain the chimpanzee population stands at nearly $9 million per year, with lifetime care estimated at up to $500,000 per individual. Project R&R estimates this cost to be upward to $900,000 per individual.

The article notes: veterinarian and ChiMP working group member Dr. William Morton’s support for the breeding moratorium and for a phasing out of biomedical research on chimpanzees; virologist Beatrice Hahn’s contention that 95% of chimpanzee experiments are “not necessary”; and, UCSD researchers Ajit Varki, Pascal Gagneux, and James J. Moore’s argument that “chimpanzees should be used only in experiments that could also be done ethically in humans.” Others, vested in its continuance, argue that chimpanzee breeding is essential “just in case” they are needed for future human epidemic research. Read more (Science Magazinesubscription needed to read full article)

 

Project R&R Responds

To the Editor:

We commend “The Endangered Lab Chimp” (Science 315; 450) for addressing chimpanzee experimentation, in which the U.S. stands alone amid international bans.

Claims that chimpanzees are indispensable center around their purported usefulness to study future epidemics. Yet, many believe their record with present diseases is not impressive, and arguments for their use are not substantiated by tangible contributions to human medicine. Take one of myriad examples: 80+ failed human AIDS vaccines were tested in chimpanzees.

Many scientists now believe taking this “animal model off the table” is prudent, and that persisting with research involving a species with such limited value and with such emotional, social, and cognitive complexity is irresponsible.

The debate rests on the shoulders of scientific examination of its necessity and standards of 21st century humane ethics. Systematic reviews of the efficacy of chimpanzee research are overdue. Meanwhile their use to study human diseases like AIDS, heart disease, and cancer has declined or no longer exists. On what grounds then can they be assumed a magic bullet for future diseases?

The article advises, “… to search your soul as to the balance between the research and …what happens to the animals.” Meeting chimpanzee research subjects compels deeper consideration of the latter. Isn’t it up to a civil and ethically and scientifically advanced society to end a practice that one day will be looked back on with revulsionjust as we now look back on the use of “criminals, paupers, lunatics” (our 1895 mission included ending their use in vivisection as well) and others who at one time science determined to be of lesser value, important to “the research and the good that comes from it,” and who were therefore expendable?

Theodora Capaldo, EdD, President
Jarrod Bailey, PhD, Science Director

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