Why Chimpanzee-Testing in Medicine Had to End

Jody, one of seven former biomedical research chimpanzees in residence at a sanctuary in Cle Elum, Wash., July 5, 2013. (Photo: Leah Nash / The New York Times)Jody, one of seven former biomedical research chimpanzees in residence at a sanctuary in Cle Elum, Washington, July 5, 2013. (Photo: Leah Nash / The New York Times)Also see: It’s Almost Impossible to Ethically Justify the Use of Animals in Research

A French man died last month and five others in the same clinical trial were hospitalized after they took an experimental drug. The drug had been deemed safe for humans after having been tested on chimpanzees in preclinical trials.

The National Institutes of Health’s recent decision to end federally supported chimpanzee experimentation could prevent future fatalities like this by promoting more human-relevant research methods.

Twenty of those government-owned chimpanzees currently housed at a testing laboratory in San Antonio, Texas, are next in line to be transferred to a sanctuary. As the use of chimpanzees in medical experiments draws to a close, it’s important to examine the superior, nonanimal research methods that will benefit patients.

In 2011, I was invited — as a cardiologist, medical educator, and former animal researcher — to testify before the Institute of Medicine Committee panel that ultimately determined that use of chimpanzees is not essential for any area of disease research.

I told them that there was a better way. That when we were told that the use of chimpanzees had been and would be important for HIV vaccine development, we should remember that three decades of vaccine research using chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates has been startlingly unproductive. This eventually led the National Institutes of Health to cease funding for HIV-AIDS research using chimpanzees.

Scientists now recognize the critical role of humans who are naturally resistant to the effects of HIV — so-called elite controllers and long-term non-progressors. These patients, some of whom have lived with HIV, but without treatment and without illness, for as long as three decades, produce broad and potent neutralizing antibodies. These…

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