"What's very positive going forward is that they have tried to figure out how many animals they need in order to have a sustainable research presence," said Alice Ra'anan, director of government relations and science policy at the American Physiological Society in Bethesda, Md. "The idea is, what is the appropriate number of animals to go forward and do the necessary research? This is exactly the way this kind of process should happen."
Much research conducted on chimps can be studied in alternative ways, animal rights groups say. The U.S. is the only country that owns chimpanzees for research.
"Chimp research makes very little to no advance of medical knowledge," said Barbara King, professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary, citing a 2007 study. "The advance of medical knowledge is important, but if you look at the medical literature and ask what's the source of the advance, chimpanzee-based literature is hardly ever cited."
The report caps two years of the NIH re-examining its stance on using chimps in research, and follows a 2011 Institute of Medicine report that issued guidelines advising that chimp research be used only in specific cases, when public health is at stake and no other animal or human study would suffice.
That could potentially include hepatitis C research: The report did not comment on which studies would continue, but chimps are the current best match in hepatitis C study.