Chimp Research Curtailed: Will Science Suffer?

//
iStockphoto

Last week, a new study reported that chimpanzees show a sense of fairness previously attributable mostly to humans.

Under recommendations issued to the National Institutes of Health yesterday, most such studies of chimpanzees would be stopped.

All but about 50 of the 451 chimpanzees owned or supported by the NIH would be retired and moved to sanctuaries, if NIH director Dr. Francis S. Collins puts the council's recommendations into effect after a 60-day comment period. The housing for the 50 chimps that would be maintained for possible future research would be upgraded to meet specific criteria within five years.

The 83-page report makes clear that the bar for future research would be high. In all, 16 current research projects would be closed, including six of nine biomedical projects.

NEWS: Chimps Have a Sense of Fairness

Both researchers and animal rights groups generally praised the recommendations, although both sides expressed potential concerns.

"We're pleased with it," said Dr. John Pippin, director of academic affairs for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. "A home run would have been to not have those 50 chimps held back. But we are inexorably moving toward the end of invasive chimpanzee research in the U.S. I think we're going to see chimpanzee research dry up."

While some biomedical scientists worry that the new standards will limit medical research, most called the recommendations reasonable, and praised the process.