Study Challenges Importance of Animals in Research

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Study Challenges Importance of Animals in Research

From Project R&R
October 2009

Chimpanzees, our closest genetic relatives, have contributed little to combating cancers and cost society not only time but wasted research dollars.

A recently released paper by Project R&R published in the journal Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA 37, 399–416), presents a serious challenge to long-standing claims that animals are an important part of human cancer research. “An Examination of Chimpanzee Use in Human Cancer Research” found that chimpanzees, our closest genetic relatives, have contributed little to combating cancers and cost society not only time but wasted research dollars. The paper comes on the heels of a national ad campaign (ResearchSaves, Sept.16, 2009) launched by The Foundation for Biomedical Research advocating animal use.

Geneticist Jarrod Bailey, Ph.D., Science Director for Project R&R: Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories, conducted a comprehensive analysis of the use of chimpanzees in cancer research over the past four decades as well as proposed future uses.

According to Bailey, “There are significant biological differences between humans and chimpanzees. Despite an overall – although superficial – genetic similarity to humans, and despite claims by the research industry, chimpanzees have proven to be a poor model for human cancer research.”

The study found that chimpanzee tumors are extremely rare and biologically different from human cancers. Literature describing potential new cancer therapies tested in chimpanzees included significant caveats concerning species differences, and described interventions that had not been pursued in humans, presumably due to adverse reactions. Further, available evidence indicates that chimpanzees are not essential in the development of monoclonal antibody therapies for cancer treatment.

The U.S. is the only remaining large-scale user of chimpanzees in biomedical research in the world. Arguments regarding the inefficacy of chimpanzee use in biomedical research for humans have been mounting. H.R. 1326, the Great Ape Protection Act, was recently introduced to the House of Representatives. The bill seeks to end invasive biomedical research and testing on an estimated 1,000 chimpanzees remaining in U.S. laboratories.

The study concludes: “It would be unscientific to claim that chimpanzees are vital to cancer research and reasonable to conclude that cancer research would not suffer if the use of chimpanzees were prohibited in the U.S.” The cancer paper follows other studies investigating chimpanzee use to study human health and disease, including HIV/AIDS vaccine development. That study found chimpanzee use has not benefited but rather has hindered our search for an effective human vaccine against HIV/AIDS.


See images of chimpanzees in laboratories.