By Anne Deschamps
On June 26, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced its response to its Council of Councils Working Group (WG) Report on the use of chimpanzees in research. The WG made its recommendations after being tasked by NIH to advise on the implementation of the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) recommendations outlined in its December 2011 report, “Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity.”
NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, accepted most of the recommendations set forth in the WG’s report with one exception: the amount of primary living space per individual chimpanzee, which was listed within the ethologically appropriate physical and social environment (EAPSE) standards. The WG suggested that each chimpanzee be allotted 1000 square feet; however, NIH felt there was a lack of scientific consensus on appropriate space per individual chimpanzee to support this recommendation. FASEB’s comments to NIH on the Report highlighted the discrepancies in standards for primary living space.
NIH did accept the other EAPSE recommendations, however, including (1) requiring that chimpanzees live in social groups of seven or more; (2) requiring that housing structures provide the opportunity for chimpanzees to climb 20 vertical feet; (3) requiring trained and experienced behaviorists and enrichment specialists; (4) keeping detailed medical records; (5) allowing year-round access to natural substrates and the outdoors; and (6) providing foraging opportunities, varied diets, and materials to construct nests on a daily basis. Director of the NIH Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives James Anderson, MD, PhD, noted that many of these recommendations are already in place at the research facilities housing chimpanzees.
In line with the WG’s recommendation, NIH agreed that the majority of NIH-owned and supported chimpanzees should be retired and placed in sanctuary (subject to availability of space and the elimination of funding restrictions imposed by the CHIMP Act). Up to 50 chimpanzees will remain available for future research needs and will be maintained in a research facility that follows the EAPSE recommendations outlined above. In addition, NIH will not revitalize a breeding program.
NIH also accepted the recommendations by the WG to establish an independent Chimpanzee Research Use Panel to review proposed research involving chimpanzees. The Panel will include individuals with the scientific expertise to evaluate whether a proposal to use chimpanzees meets the IOM principles and criteria. This review will take place after the proposal has gone through the standard peer-review process.
In a stakeholder conference call with NIH officials held the same day of the agency’s announcement, FASEB Past-President, Judith S. Bond, PhD, asked whether NIH anticipates requests to extend these types of restrictions to other animals. Kathy Hudson, PhD, Deputy Director for Science, Outreach, and Policy, noted that the IOM and WG recommendations are directed specifically towards chimpanzees. She added, “[NIH is] committed to supporting research with a number of animal models. We see [animal] research as being incredibly valuable and useful in terms of understanding biology and understanding human disease and developing new treatments and interventions.” Continuing, Dr. Hudson stated that these are a focused set of recommendations and set of actions with respect to chimpanzees, with no implications for other animal models– even other non-human primates.