From New England
Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS)
The Committee on Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research (the Committee) is charged with evaluating the scientific necessity of chimpanzee research. The National Institutes of Health instructed the Committee not to consider ethical concerns.
But on the order of the numbers game, the side to end research on chimpanzees overtook the session, with those in support of it failing to adequately argue either its worth or necessity.
The New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) testified before the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council of the National Academies of Science during their second public meeting held in Washington D.C., August 11 – 12th. The Committee on Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research (the Committee) is charged with evaluating the scientific necessity of chimpanzee research. The National Institutes of Health instructed the Committee not to consider ethical concerns.
During the Public Comment forum, Dr. Theodora Capaldo, NEAVS President, advised the Committee by quoting Nature: “The agency [NIH] may wish to divorce the science from the ethics, but society at large will not accept such a distinction… nor is it intellectually defensible.” Dr. Capaldo’s testimony made it clear that one cannot separate scientific concerns from humane ones, since the well-documented physiological stress chimpanzees and other animals suffer from laboratory confinement and use affects their brains, bodies, and immune systems, having a profound effect on the nature of the data obtained from their use.
At the Committee’s first public forum on May 26th, NEAVS’ Science Director, Dr. Jarrod Bailey, was among the scientists the Committee invited to testify. Dr. Bailey provided testimony that the use of chimpanzees in HIV/AIDS, cancer, hepatitis C, and other human disease research has been limited, inaccurate, un-predictive, and unnecessary and has contributed little or nothing to human health. Dr. Bailey summarized his research for the Committee:
“After careful review of over thirty years of chimpanzee use in many areas of human disease research, the following conclusions can be drawn and supported scientifically… they’re rarely used today. They have proven to be poor models in many areas, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C; chimpanzee use in cancer and heart disease research has been almost non-existent because either they don’t get the disease, or they get a very different disease. There is burgeoning evidence of major, important and widespread genetic differences showing why chimpanzees are poor models for human research….and why they can never be good models.”
At the recent meeting, Dr. Capaldo expanded upon Dr. Bailey’s testimony by citing research on the psychological and physiological stress effects on chimpanzees in labs:
“Studies have established that chimpanzees in research suffer from PTSD, depression and other psychological maladies. And routine and invasive procedures cause elevations of physiological stress indicators…. Stress affects immune systems—crucial for the study of infectious diseases—and vital organs such as the liver—important for the metabolism of drugs—and renders the use of chimpanzees flawed science…even if assumed they may have value—which we do not.”
Dr. Capaldo backed her scientific arguments with the dire ethical concerns surrounding chimpanzee use. She concluded her testimony by introducing the committee to Jeannie and Tom, rescued from years of invasive research by the Fauna Foundation. They both later died in sanctuary. Dr. Capaldo reminded committee members that despite their mandate to focus only on the science, “we are talking about living beings, not test tubes.” She read an excerpt from Jeannie’s history of use and psychological suffering and from Tom’s autopsy report—both undeniable proof of the physical and psychological suffering that chimpanzees endure, noting, “Their stories are not atypical.” She asserted that, “Arguing [their] worth to research, except as a study of its casualties, would be indefensible.” The room was silent. She appealed to the Committee that to arrive at an informed decision, the ethical concerns surrounding chimpanzee use cannot be put aside—for scientific as well as ethical reasons and that including them “will direct the better science that would follow.”
Several others testified in favor of ending research on chimpanzees, notably Dr. Jane Goodall, who joined the meeting via video conference. Dr. Goodall pointed out that over the last 10 years, “…technology has exploded with new techniques in research.” Goodall also said of chimpanzees kept captive for research, “…from their point of view, it’s like torture.”
Other scientists presented on topics including chimpanzee behavior,
genetics, communication, learning, and the role of chimpanzees in hepatitis
research, monoclonal antibodies, malaria, biodefense, and alternative
Animal researchers and representatives of the biomedical lobby industry or those currently engaged in the “business” of doing or providing chimpanzees for research provided testimony in favor of keeping chimpanzees in labs. But on the order of the numbers game, the side to end research on chimpanzees overtook the session, with those in support of it failing to adequately argue either its worth or necessity. Especially important was scientific testimony from Ann-Marie Cruz, Program Officer, Research and Development, PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative; Theresa Reynolds, Director, Safety Assessment, Genentech; and Robert Hamatake, Director of HCV Biology, GlaxoSmithKline. They all testified that with advances in technology, chimpanzees are no longer necessary for developing high tech drugs called monoclonal antibodies, vaccines for epidemic diseases like malaria and other areas. Following this encouraging trilogy, on day two was the testimony from James Swearengen, former Director of Comparative Medicine, National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center. He began his testimony on biodefense research noting that his comments would be short and to the point. “I am not aware of any historic use of chimpanzees, no current use and, for the future, I don’t envision any need.”
The Committee’s role throughout the two days was a mix of penetrating questions that stayed on task and challenged presenters to back their arguments, clarify and support their conclusions as to both the necessity and even the applicability of chimpanzee use to human health. Still, the questions of other members appeared biased in the foregone conclusion that chimpanzees and all animal models are valid.
Fortunately, public and NEAVS’ criticism of the original Committee composition led to the inclusion of some new members with less direct or vested interest in the animal model. These members are proving extremely important in raising public confidence that the Committee may be able to reach an objective conclusion and may minimize the impact of “old school” researchers who resist progress.
We can only hope that the Committee finds with us that the use of chimpanzees in research is neither necessary nor productive for human health. If that happens, we can only hope that NIH heeds the Committee’s recommendations. There are too many reasons not to: 1,000 chimpanzees in U.S. laboratories and millions of humans suffering from diseases for which effective research is long overdue.
The Committee initially convened on April 5th and expects to issue its final report by the end of 2011.