Nature echoes the call for the National Institutes of Health to create a humane retirement plan for their primate research assistants:
Last December, a report from the US Institute of Medicine concluded that most chimpanzee research was scientifically unnecessary and recommended that the NIH sharply curtail its support. The agency has since set up a working group to review existing studies and advise on whether they should be ended. [Hepatitis researcher Robert] Purcell and his team have formally requested that one study on liver disease, involving three of the remaining chimps at Bioqual, should be allowed to continue.
But animal activists say that the Bioqual chimpanzees, which could undergo decades more research at the NIRC, should be retired. On 5 July, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), an animal-advocacy group in Washington DC, launched a petition and wrote to NIH director Francis Collins urging him to intervene to ensure that the animals are placed in a federally supported sanctuary in Louisiana called Chimp Haven.
Purcell is using them to study a possible infectious trigger of primary biliary cirrhosis, a chronic autoimmune disease of the liver that is usually fatal without a liver transplant.
Purcell says that his team hopes to follow the animals for several years after their return to the NIRC, drawing blood and taking liver biopsies at intervals to track the slowly developing disease. “If we can confirm that this is a transmissible disease … one could try to develop a vaccine [or] therapeutic measures.” If the animals are retired, he says, “all of that would be lost”.