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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will send its last 50 research chimps to sanctuaries, agency director Francis Collins has decided, ending a controversial animal experiment program launched during the AIDS crisis.
In a November 16 email, according to Nature magazine, Collins wrote to NIH administrators: “there is no further justification for the 50 chimpanzees to continue to be kept available for invasive biomedical research.”
In June, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service listed captive chimps as endangered, joining their wild counterparts in that status. That meant that future chimp research would have to show a benefit to the species to continue, adding a bar to their use in experiments. But NIH had said that month it intended to keep its reserve of 50 chimps.
“We have moved away from a time where we would consider chimps essential to medical research,” Collins said, in telephone briefing for reporters. “Effective immediately, NIH will no longer maintain a colony of 50 chimpanzees for future research.”
Collins initially froze chimp research in 2011, after an internal research panel questioned their use in medical research. That decision eventually led to the agency only using the animals for studies of hepatitis and psychological behaviors. NIH retired 310 chimps in 2013, saving the last 50 as a “reserve” for research in a public health emergency.
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