The Institute of Medicine has called for strict limits on the use of chimpanzees — the closest genetic relatives to humans — in medical and behavioral research.
“The committee concluded that research using animals that are so closely related to humans should not proceed unless it offers insights not possible with other animal models and unless it is of sufficient scientific or health value to offset the moral costs,” said Jeffrey Kahn, chairman of the IOM committee, in a news release. ”We found very few cases that satisfy these criteria.”
The IOM’s report said the amount of research conducted on chimps had decreased over the past 10 years but should continue only if there were no other suitable models for the research, the research could not be conducted ethically on humans and not using chimps would slow or prevent important progress against life-threatening diseases.
Chimpanzees are viewed as more accurate models for how diseases and treatments develop in people than other animals, such as mice.
But because chimps share some behavioral characteristics with humans, many scientists have concluded that experimenting on them is unethical.
Scientists have used chimps to develop vaccines and treatments for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, and the IOM report said private research companies have used the animals to test drug safety and efficacy.
The primates are used both by federally funded researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as by researchers in the private sector.
The U.S. is one of only two countries that conduct invasive research on chimpanzees; the other is Gabon in central Africa. There are approximately 1,000 chimpanzees in U.S. research facilities, according to a report in the New York Times.