Two years ago, most of the chimps used for medical research in the United States were retired and sent to sanctuaries to live out the rest of their lives. Now, the United States National Institute of Health( NIH) has announced that it is shutting down its chimp medical research program once and for all.

As before, the 50 currently owned primates will be forwarded to sanctuaries. Another scheme, wherein 82 other chimpanzees are supported by the NIH but owned by other medical research facilities, will also be phased out over time. The director of the NIH, Francis Collins, spoke to Nature about the decision: I think this is the natural next step of what has been a very thoughtful five-year process of trying to come to words with the benefits and risks of trying to perform research with these very special animals. We reached a point where in that five years the necessity of achieving research has essentially shrunk to zero.

Around3 10 chimps were retired in 2013, in accordance with a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine( IOM ). Their report also set the bar extremely high for allowing chimpanzee experiments to take place, with only the most important, vital, time-dependent experiments permitted on the remaining 50. Most of the experimentations the IOMaccepted as serving the greatest is beneficial for humen involved research into infectious diseases.

Earlier this year, the U.S. government dedicated research chimps the same protection rights given to endangered species, means that almost all invasive research on them was proscribed. Non-invasive behavioral studies using chimpanzees were allowed to continue, however.

This may seem like a pioneering step, but a outlaw( or at least, incredibly severe restrictions) on using great apes for medical research is in place in several other countries already, including the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom, the last of which banned this type of research in 1986.

Image credit: The last 50 captive chimpanzees owned by the NIH will be put in sanctuaries. apple2 499/ Shutterstock

Chimpanzees were used for research because this is genetically and physiologically very similar to humen. Now, other animals will have to be used in their place. It is due to this similarity that many have argued that it is unethical to intentionally harm these primate cousins of ours in the name of medical research.

However , not everyone is happy with this decision. Allyson Bennet, a developmental psychobiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, points out that the sanctuaries do not have the same welfare standards that applied to the NIH-supported centres. Other researchers that require chimpanzees for conservation work permitted even after the 2013 ruling arent happy either.

Peter Walsh, who was leading an effort to develop an Ebola vaccine for wild chimpanzees using captive specimen at the University of Louisiana, will now find his research has hit a significant, perhaps permanent, roadblock. There really is no other place to do conservation-related trials but the US biomed facilities, Walsh toldNature.

Read more: www.iflscience.com

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