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Report: Get the Chimps Out of the Lab

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December 16, 2011

BALTIMORE - The use of chimpanzees for most types of research is no longer necessary for most projects, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine about the use of chimps in biomedical and behavioral research. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Jeffrey Kahn of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, Baltimore, chaired the committee that prepared the report. He says advances in other technologies can replace the animals for most projects.

"Humanized animals, in vitro is another approach, and there's even some work to try to create computer-based models that may obviate the need for chimpanzees."

A bill that would ban lab testing on chimpanzees has been introduced in Congress. Maryland Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-6th Dist.) is one of the sponsors of the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011 (HR 1513/S 810).

This study was ordered by Congress to assess the need to use chimpanzees in research. Kahn says the committee did not reach agreement on whether chimpanzees are essential to research in developing a Hepatitis C vaccine. Chimpanzees and humans are the only two species susceptible to the disease, and chimpanzees' immune systems are better at clearing it, explains Kahn.

"It's a disease that affects many millions of people worldwide, and the majority reason for liver transplant in the United States. So, it's an important disease."

The report sets stringent guidelines for situations in which chimpanzees are essential, along with requirements for techniques that are minimally invasive and allow for the animals to be in natural habitats when possible. It can be viewed online at ht.ly/80QVr.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD