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NIH sends chimps to sanctuary with help from animal activists

Chimpanzees at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana will soon have a new home.

Meredith Wadman

In the latest step towards shrinking chimpanzee research in the United States, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced on 18 December a plan to retire its stock of 113 research animals from the New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) in Louisiana to Chimp Haven, a federally funded sanctuary in Keithsville, Louisiana.

“These animals have made important contributions to research to improve human health, but new technologies have reduced the need for their continued use in research,” said NIH director Francis Collins in a press statement, echoing the findings of an NIH-solicited report by the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) last year.

Collins declared the NIRC chimpanzees ineligible for research in September, but at the time said that the NIH planned to move only ten animals to Chimp Haven owing to limitations on space there, as well as a lack of NIH funds for new construction at the sanctuary. The remaining chimpanzees were slated for transfer to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, one of two other US centres that conducts NIH-funded chimpanzee research.

Although the NIH had pledged that the NIRC animals would be off limits for invasive research at the San Antonio facility, animal activists pushed for the transfer of more chimpanzees to the Louisiana sanctuary, which carries out no such research at all. Chimp Haven is limited to non-invasive behavioural studies.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has pledged to raise US$500,000 towards the $2.3-million construction project needed to move all the NIRC chimpanzees to Chimp Haven. Additional fundraising will be undertaken by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, an independent non-profit organization that supports NIH work.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the HSUS, called the new plan “a ray of light for captive chimpanzees”.

The transition is expected to take 12–15 months, with half of the animals moving into existing structures at Chimp Haven over the next four months and the rest following as construction is completed.

Although the HSUS and the NIH are collaborating on moving the NIRC chimpanzees, the two groups continue to hold opposing views on animal research in general.

“When people can join together to solve a problem, it doesn’t mean they agree on all issues,” said Kathy Hudson, NIH deputy director of science, outreach and policy, in a press conference. Hudson added that recent decisions to scale back chimpanzee research have no bearing on NIH support for other animal studies.

The NIH continues to fund invasive research on 115 chimpanzees at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and 167 at the Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research in Bastrop, Texas, according to an October census. A working group within the agency is now re-evaluating all NIH-supported chimpanzee projects in light of proposed IOM standards for scientific necessity, and is expected to report its findings on 22 January.

“When we receive those recommendations, we’ll have a thorough review of animals available,” said James Anderson, NIH deputy director for programme coordination, planning and strategic initiatives.


  1. Report this comment

    doug leith said:

    Primates have never contributed to human medicine, this is an alibi and a justification for what has been done to these animals but is not supported by evidence… * The second major use of primates is for brain research. Yet the most dramatic differences between humans and other primates are in the brain.
    * Human brains can now be studied non-invasively using remarkable high-tech scanners. These enable the conscious brain to be observed while engaged in a variety of cognitive tasks of which monkeys are not even capable.
    * Everything we know about neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s has been learned from studying patients, their families and their tissues. ‘It is in human tissue that we will find the answers to these diseases’ – Dr John Xuereb, Director, Cambridge Brain Bank & Wolfson Imaging Centre.
    * Hundreds of drugs for stroke have been developed and tested in primates and other animals, yet all of them have failed and even harmed patients in trials. ‘The stroke community needs to think long and hard about whether these animal models are financially and ethically viable’ – Lancet editorial 2006.
    * Deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease was pioneered in patients, not monkeys, as its developer makes plain in New Scientist (2457) 24.7.04, p 40.
    * In 2003, a senior planning inspector dismissed Cambridge University’s proposed primate laboratory because ‘no national need’ for such research was demonstrated.

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