310 Chimps to Retire from Medical Research, Animal Model Used for Study of Chronic Hepatitis C

First Posted: Jun 26, 2013 03:29 PM EDT

According to a statement the National Institutes of Health made Wednesday, 310 chimps will be retiring from medical research over the next few years, based on the opinion that our closest relatives "deserve special respect."

The agency said that it will keep only 50 other chimps essential on retainer, allowing them to be available for various medical studies if need be that could not be performed any other way.

In a press release, NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. said that the use of chimps in biomedical research has been valuable in the past, but that new technologies "have rendered their use in research largely unnecessary." Collins wrote that the agency received guidance from many groups and that he is confident that the decision to reduce the use of chimps in research is both "scientifically sound and the right thing to do."

Yahoo News writes that this particular decision was applauded by The Humane Society of the United States. "This is a significant agency decision that will bring about positive and sweeping changes for government-owned chimpanzees in laboratories," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the organization, via the news group.

According to USA Today, this announcement was long-expected following the prestigious Institute of Medicine's declaration back in 2011 that most use of chimps for medical resarch was immoral. However, many are unclear what's going to happen to the chimps now that they're free. Where will they be spending their final days?

Regardless, many animal rights groups are ecstatic of the news, as most believed the testing was unnecessary and potentially dangerous to the health of the animals. 

The American Physiological Society notes that "today, chimps are the only model for chronic hepatitis C, a leading cause of liver cancer. They are also valuable for studies aimed at protecting wild apes: An Ebola vaccine study conducted in chimps in earlier 2011 has already led to the development of a vaccine for wild gorillas, whose populations have already been reduced by a third by the virus."

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