NIH Working Group Says Chimpanzees Should Not Go to Sanctuary if Their Health Could Be Endangered

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Working Group on Assessing the Safety of Relocating At-Risk Chimpanzees released their report last Friday in which they conclude, “Chimpanzees should be relocated to the federal sanctuary system unless relocation would place the chimpanzee's life, safety, and welfare at extreme risk.” The federal sanctuary system referenced in this report is Chimp Haven in Keithville, LA. NABR has long argued that chimpanzees should not be relocated if their health, safety, or welfare were put at risk by the move. The report goes on to state if there is a disagreement between a research facility and sanctuary, an “independent expert veterinary opinion should be sought to inform the relocation decision.” However, the report included no details about who the independent third party should be nor how impartiality would be determined.

The working group report comes in the wake of revelations that moving elderly or ailing chimpanzees from research facilities to sanctuaries had been adversely affecting their health, and in several cases the move was fatal. Researchers have noted many chimpanzees suffered or died needlessly as a result of transfers to Chimp Haven, as detailed by Speaking of Research. In fact Wired profiled 13 chimpanzees who were moved to the facility in 2014-2015; within 15 months, nine of the chimps had died.

As of March 2018, 232 of the 504 chimpanzees owned by NIH have been moved to the federal sanctuary. Of the remaining chimpanzees that have not been moved, 177 have health issues that would be negatively impacted by relocation. NIH plans to open a 60-day public comment period before NIH Director Francis Collins decides on further chimpanzee relocation. Director Collins ordered an end to NIH funding of chimpanzee research in November 2015.

New NIH Working Group to Develop Guidelines for Chimpanzee Retirement

What to do with nearly 300 retired research chimpanzees has remained a question for quite some time. Currently in three medical research centers, the animals have been awaiting transfer to the only federal retirement sanctuary: Chimp Haven.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) plans to organize a working group for developing recommendations for veterinarians to consider when or if to transfer chimpanzees. This comes after a number of deaths of former research chimps shortly after arriving at the sanctuary. The unavoidable stress of moving the animals, many of which are elderly and sick, has raised concerns leading many to question whether moving the animals at all is a wise endeavor.

“Retirement in place” at the medical research centers, in the animals’ existing social groupings, has been suggested as a preferable alternative. The NIH’s formation of a working group could signal a reevaluation of the subject of research chimpanzee retirement.

Nature covered this story early in the week, which can be read in its entirely here.

Legal Scholars Taking a Look at Chimps’ Personhood

The recent court cases brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) have started to garner attention, not only from animal activists and the research sector, but from the general public as well.  Recently, Matthew Goldberg, a Boston-area writer who has been featured in the Federalist and New Boston Post, wrote a thought-provoking opinion piece on the subject.

In his article, Goldberg discussed the difference between legal rights and duties, which was a major focus  of the court in its most recent decision. The court explained that NhRP’s personhood argument is specious—chimps cannot have the legal right to exist without potential use as research subjects precisely because they also cannot, for example, pay a parking ticket or serve a prison sentence for mauling another chimp (or human for that matter).

Goldberg addressed another argument by NhRP, that primate intelligence warrants legal personhood explaining the potential for the use of that precedent to deny rights to humans with limited intelligence or cognitive impairment.

The article seems to conflate rights—to which animals are entitled, as, for example, undergirds laws against animal cruelty—with full personhood, to which animals are not entitled because they are not capable of fulfilling the attendant legal duties.

Goldberg asked thoughtful questions in this piece, leaving room for more dialogue on the subject and possibly signifying increased public attention to and interest in personhood arguments (as will play out again in NhRP’s appeal).

Spending Bills Approved and Advanced on Capitol Hill

Late last week the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $20.5 billion agriculture spending bill. The Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act will fund programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for FY2018. The bill includes a $4.8 billion increase to the amount proposed in President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint, but $7.9 billion less than the previous year’s funding level. Of interest to the animal research community is the allocation of $953.2 million for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the agency that regulates and inspects animal research laboratories. This is $143.2 million above Trump’s budget request for APHIS and $7 million above the funding level for FY2017. The bill was approved by the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

Also last week the House Appropriations Committee passed a $156 billion Labor-HHS-Education spending bill for FY 2018. The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Bill contains $21.6 billion more than the amount proposed by Trump and $34.7 billion more than the funding level for FY2018. The spending bill contains $35.2 billion for the NIH ($8.6 billion increase to the Trump’s budget proposal and $1.1 billion increase to FY 2017 allocation) and was approved by the subcommittee on July 13. The bill contains language that directs the NIH to develop a plan to speed up the process of transferring retired research chimpanzees to retirement sanctuaries.

Please stay tuned for more important updates from NABR during the Appropriations process.

Learn How Animal Research is Helping Elephants and Other Endangered Species

By now, we’re all very familiar with how translational research has helped improve the lives of both humans and animals. But did you know similar research is helping to save endangered species from extinction? It is and the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) recently covered the advancements in science that are being put forward to protect endangered animals.

A number of factors are targeting species of wild animals for extinction. Deforestation, pollution, poaching, disease, and urbanization are all taking their toll, so science is using valuable data obtained from animal studies to reverse that course. Assistive reproduction technology like in vitro fertilization and cloning opens the possibility to breeding of these animals in captivity and allowing for their release into the wild. In fact a similar project is currently underway at the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. with endangered cats and canids.

Researchers, like those at the Baylor College of Medicine, are studying a deadly strain of the herpes virus called EEHV which can kill young elephants in a matter of days. With the help of mice and rabbits in examining EEHV, those researchers were able to unlock the virus’ genome to help decode a possible vaccine for Asian elephants. Similar vaccine studies have also been conducted to help primates, namely chimpanzees. The deadly Ebola virus is responsible for countless human deaths, but it has also ravaged the wild chimpanzee population. In a 1994 outbreak roughly one quarter of the chimpanzee population died from the disease. Thankfully, University of Cambridge researchers were able to create a vaccine with captive chimpanzees in 2014 that has saved countless chimps from Ebola in the wild.

Animal research has and will undoubtedly continue to play a vital role in the development of lifesaving treatments for both people and animals. Thankfully it is greatly benefiting species that may otherwise disappear due to disease or interference with the delicate balance of the world’s ecosystem. To read FBR's review of these important species preserving studies, please click here.

Researchers Hope Studies with Monkeys Yield Vaccines for HIV, Other Viruses

The mythical opening of Pandora’s box resulted in the release of diseases, many of which science has conquered and found new and innovative treatments to manage them.  Once of great concern, Polio, Measles, Typhoid fever, and Yellow fever, are now no longer worrisome due in part to medical achievements with nonhuman primates (NHP).  But a great deal of work remains and researchers at NABR’s 380 institutional members continue to strive to find a vaccines to eradicate HIV and other infectious diseases.

Highlighting this research was a posting by the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) explaining the irreplaceable role that monkeys play in scientific discovery.  They alone mirror the biological process of infections in humans because of their similar genetic make-up.  Being 98% genetically similar to humans makes them uniquely suited for these critical studies.  While there is currently no cure for HIV, the virus can be managed by a “drug cocktail” of antiretroviral therapy (ART) medicines.  This is certainly something to be proud of but researchers haven’t quit the hunt for a vaccine to prevent the spread of the HIV virus.  In fact, researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) will be taking an exciting HIV vaccine, developed and tested with NHP’s, to clinical trials in humans soon.

Please take a moment to read FBR’s posting and to share your thoughts in the comment section.  Also, please share this report with your friends, family, colleagues, and on social media to help communicate the vital importance that animal models still play in biomedical research and testing.

FBR Statement on End to Chimpanzee Research

The Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) learned with concern of the recent NIH decision to retire all NIH-owned chimpanzees, ending its support for research on the species. Given the cost and difficulty of moving over 300 chimpanzees, who are currently well-situated in established colonies and receiving the highest quality of care, FBR believes it would make more sense to let the animals remain in place, which will have the additional benefit of maintaining a study model should the need arise. The decision to retire even the reserve colony seems to run contrary to the Institute of Medicine’s report, which stated “chimpanzees may prove uniquely important to unraveling the mystery of diseases that are unknown today”.

To read how chimpanzees have helped medical research, please click here.

USA Today Op-Ed by FBR’s President: “We’re Killing Chimps with Kindness”

The Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) continues to receive national attention for its effort to educate the public on the vital importance of animal research for both human and animal benefit.  Moments ago, USA Today featured an opinion piece by Frankie Trull, President FBR, discussing the pitfalls of a recent decision by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to classify captive chimpanzees as endangered species.

In, "We're Killing Chimps with Kindness," Ms. Trull discusses how the FWS’ recent re-designation of chimpanzees to the “endangered” list is effectively signing the death warrants for countless chimps.  She discusses the promising species-preserving research that will be lost to unnecessary regulation noting, "the move will effectively halt U.S. medical research with chimps — research that is moving ever-closer to yielding a vaccine for Ebola, which has wiped out one of every three great apes over the last two decades."

To read today's coverage of this important issue, please click here.  USA Today is the nation's top newspaper in circulation reaching 4,139,380 people.  Today's coverage is the latest addition to FBR coverage in other significant news outlets like the Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Sun-Times, and the Tampa Tribune.

If you'd like to help FBR continue spreading the word on the critical importance of humane animal research, please share "We're Killing Chimps with Kindness" with your friends, family, colleagues and on social media.  You can make a difference by donating to FBR by clicking below or by calling (202) 457-0654.

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New York Times Features Guest Column Highlighting Problematic FWS Chimpanzee Rule

As NABR reported on September 21, all chimpanzees are listed as endangered under U.S. law, both wild and captive, as the result of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decision earlier this year.  The rule went into effect on September 14.  Just this past weekend, Peter Walsh, a lecturer in primate ecology at Cambridge University penned an opinion piece in the September 26 edition of the New York Times outlining potential problems resulting from the FWS decision.

Protecting Apes Could Backfire” discusses several unintended consequences that could have detrimental effects to health advancements not just for humans but for great apes, as well.  Recently, much has been made about the ancestor of the HIV virus, Ebola, and anthrax in humans but little has been mentioned about infections in great apes like gorillas and chimpanzees.  Researchers are racing against the clock to stop these naturally occurring threats to preserve the species but that may all cease because of the importance of captive animals to research.  Not a single research program has applied for a permit and it is uncertain as to whether any will.  The piece also makes several other interesting points pertaining to the shockwaves that will be sent through research benefitting humans.

Feel free to read “Protecting Apes Could Backfire” by clicking here.

U.S. Captive Chimpanzees Designation as Endangered Species Is Now in Effect

As of September 14, all chimpanzees are listed as endangered under U.S. law, both wild and captive, as the result of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decision earlier this year. With the new designation, it is illegal to sell chimpanzees in the interstate pet trade or to engage in commercial transport of the animals across state lines. Permits are now required for anyone wishing to conduct biomedical research involving captive chimpanzees, and will only be issued by FWS if it will benefit the survival of the species.

The effective date of the FWS action was welcomed by Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) CEO Wayne Pacelle in several blog messages (see here and here). It was also celebrated online by other animal activists. “It's so good to hear that unnecessary biomedical research on chimpanzees is coming to an end . . .” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) said on her Facebook page September 8 along with a picture of chimpanzees.

Meanwhile, there has been broad news coverage about the race to find an Ebola vaccine in order to save wild Great Apes, including chimpanzees, whose numbers are being decimated by the disease in Africa. The testing of vaccines in chimpanzees at the New Iberia Primate Research Center in Louisiana, and the question of whether that work would continue after September 14, was raised in a National Public Television Newshour segment. That question is still unanswered. The Atlantic Magazine raises more questions about how harmful the new restrictions on biomedical research with chimpanzees may be to wild populations in the story “Should Apes Be Saved from Ebola?

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