The U.S. Will Retire Most of the Chimpanzees Used for Research

Gerald Herbert/AP

Only 50 chimps will be kept for biomedical research in the future.

Citing "new scientific methods and technologies" rendering the use of chimpanzees in research almost — but not quite — unnecessary, the National Institutes of Health announced their intention to retire all but 50 of the chimps they have on hand for research, out of a total of nearly 360. The NIH's press release explains

"NIH plans to retain but not breed up to 50 chimpanzees for future biomedical research...The chimpanzees designated for retirement could eventually join more than 150 other chimpanzees already in the Federal Sanctuary System." 

There's a balance considered by scientists who do research on chimps that, for the NIH, seems to be tipping more and more towards the reduction of the use of the primates, who are genetically similar to humans. On the one hand, there's the usefulness of a genetically similar model to humans for experimentation. On the other hand, there are a host of ethical concerns. Taking the latter into account, the bar set for experimenting on chimpanzees is based on an earlier report by the Institute of Medicine. It governs experiments that would cause harm or mental stress to the animals. Essentially, those experiments will be allowed to use chimps if no alternatives exist, and the research is deemed important enough, a relatively narrow window.  

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