NIH to make Chimpanzee Breeding Moratorium Permanent
The NIH’s National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) instituted a breeding moratorium in 1995, largely as a result of the failure of chimpanzee models of AIDS to produce any clinically useful outcomes. Barbara Alving, director of the NCRR revealed that they will now make permanent this long-standing moratorium. A move hailed as a success by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), whose campaign against the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research included nearly 22,000 letters to the NCRR. However, the NCRR denies this, stating that the decision was purely financial as each of the 650 animals supported, cost $500,000 over a lifetime.
Without NIH support the current population will steadily be retired or will die within the next 30 years.
Researchers who do studies with the chimpanzees have denounced the move as short-sighted, claiming that maintaining a large genetically diverse population of chimpanzees could help answer fundamental biomedical questions about diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and hepatitis B and C. This is despite chimpanzees never being used for AD research in the past, and there being no indication that they will be needed in the future. The chimpanzee is also not the only means by which to study hepatitis, as both transgenic mice and human immune response measurements are now being utilised in the search for an effective vaccine.
As well as the scientific arguments against the moratorium, the critics have also claimed that the breeding programme serves as an insurance policy should the chimpanzee become extinct. This is indeed clutching at straws, surely investment in dedicated breeding and release programmes, and habitat conservation would be more ethical and successful in preventing extinction in the first place.
Whether financial or not, this decision by the NIH should be applauded and it is hoped will set a precedence for other funding agencies around the world to follow suit, and perhaps consider expanding such a moratorium to other non-human primate species where the scientific justifications for their use are weak or outdated.