Tag Archives: Chimpanzee

Ebola virus vaccine developed to protect wild gorillas and chimpanzees

The current Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia is a stark reminder on the need for effective therapies and vaccines for this disease, which has claimed the lives of thousands of people in West Africa in a series of outbreaks since the 1970’s.

It is not just the human inhabitants of West Africa who are threatened by the Ebola virus. Over the past few decades thousands of endangered gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild have been killed in devastating outbreaks, including over 5,000 gorillas in just one outbreak in Northern Congo in 2002—2003.

A new report (1) by scientists at the University of Cambridge and New Iberia Research Center illustrates “high conservation potential” of vaccines for endangered wild primates devastated by viral disease. The paper published today in the prestigious scientific journal PNAS shows that candidate vaccines which despite very promising preclinical results never complete the expensive licensing process for human use – can be co-opted for use in populations of highly endangered species such as gorillas and chimpanzees.

The study was supported by an unusual constellation of organizations, including the Universities of Cambridge and Louisiana, the conservation charity Apes Incorporated, the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the biotech company Integrated BioTherapeutics Inc.  The work was conducted at the US’s New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana, one of the research facilities that houses chimpanzees who are not owned by the National Institutes of Health.

This is the first time that a conservation-specific vaccine trial has been undertaken on captive chimpanzees, and proves that a vaccine against Ebola virus is both safe and capable of producing a robust immune response in chimpanzees.

The research team, led by Dr Peter Walsh of the University of Cambridge, administered captive chimpanzees with a new virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine being developed by the biotech company Integrated Biotherapeutics for use on humans. While they did not challenge the vaccinated animals directly with Ebola, researchers tested whether antibodies harvested from the chimpanzees’ blood could protect mice against the deadly virus. They also monitored the chimpanzees in case the vaccine produced health complications.

Results showed that the vaccine is safe in chimpanzees. The vaccinated chimpanzees developed robust immune responses, with virus-specific antibodies detected as early as 2 to 4 weeks after the first vaccination in some animals and within 2 weeks of the second vaccination in all animals.

The antibody transfer study is not the only evidence that this vaccine will work. In 2007 a key paper (2) published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases by Dr Kelly Warfield of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases – who was also first author on today’s PNAS paper – demonstrated that the VLP vaccine used to vaccinate chimpanzees provides rhesus macaques with very robust protection against the Ebola virus. The 2007 paper also highlights earlier studies in mice and guinea pigs that allowed the refining and evaluation of VLP vaccines against challenge with filoviruses such as Ebola and Marburg, work that underpinned the development of this vaccine.

Transmission electron micrograph of Ebola virus. Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Transmission electron micrograph of Ebola virus. Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Next steps:  Testing in captive apes prior to field trials

The authors of today’s paper note that these VLP vaccines currently require multiple administrations to reach “full potency”, but could prove the difference between survival and extinction for species that are highly endangered or immunologically fragile but also easy to vaccinate.

Peter Walsh stressed the need to test this vaccine on captive ape populations prior to field trials.

We need to be pragmatic about saving these animals now before they are wiped out forever, and vaccination could be a turning point. But park managers are adamant – and rightly so at this stage – that all vaccines are tested on captive apes before deployment in the wild. This means access to captive chimpanzees for vaccine trials.”

The ability to test new vaccines for conservation purposes relies on research access to captive chimpanzees, but this access is now under threat just as the recognition of its necessity is increasing in the conservation community.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is now considering regulations that would end all biomedical testing on captive chimpanzees over the next few years – the US being the only developed country to allow such research. The study’s authors believe that the US should establish a “humanely housed” captive chimpanzee population dedicated solely to conservation research.  The US already has research facilities with humane housing, including social groups, complex enclosures, expert behavioral management to provide enrichment, cognitive engagement, excellent clinical care and chimpanzees trained for cooperative clinical procedures. Thus, it is possible that the need for conservation research could be met by existing populations or centers.

Peter Walsh suggests that, by ending captive research in an effort to pay back an “ethical debt” to captive chimpanzees, the US Government is poised to “renege on an even larger debt to wild chimpanzees” at risk from viruses transmitted by tourists and researchers – as safety testing on captive chimpanzees is required before vaccines can be used in the wild.

“There is a large pool of experimental vaccines that show excellent safety and immunity profiles in primate trails but are never licensed for human use, we’ve demonstrated that it’s feasible for very modestly funded ape conservationists to adapt these orphan vaccines into conservation tools, but the ability to trial vaccines on captive chimps is vital. Ours is the first conservation-related vaccine trial on captive chimpanzees – and it may be the last.

“Although Congress specifically instructed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to consider the conservation value of captive chimpanzee research, no findings on its possible impact were presented (in the 2011 Institute of Medicine report – SR). If the biomedical laboratories that have the facilities and inclination to conduct controlled vaccine trials ‘liquidate’ (by which he means retire to sanctuaries – SR) their chimpanzee populations, there will be nowhere left to do conservation-related trials.”

Consideration of the work, its continuation, and implications for wild chimpanzees poses challenging ethical questions, particularly in light of recent changes in US chimpanzee research.  They are questions worth serious discussion not only to inform the future of the vaccine research and conservation efforts, but also because they highlight some of the core issues in decision-making about nonhuman animal research.  Primary among the philosophical and pragmatic questions is whether it is ethical to subordinate the interests of individual animals to those of the species, or of other species.  Should some captive chimpanzees be subjected to invasive, infectious disease research in order to potentially benefit wild apes—not only chimpanzees, but also the gorillas who are most threatened by Ebola?  Another set of questions surround which chimpanzees should be used in this research.  Should it be chimpanzees housed in research facilities in the US who are now to be retired to sanctuaries?  Chimpanzees privately owned by research facilities in the US?  Zoo chimpanzees in Europe who are not intended to breed?

While none of these questions are new, progress in Ebola vaccine development and testing puts into sharp relief the kinds of serious ethical challenges that should engage both the scientific community and the broad public.  The questions are not, as the quote from Peter Walsh suggests, relevant only in the US, they are—like many issues in conservation—global.  The results of scientific study and medical progress are not limited to the country in which the research is performed and in this case, it is the global community that has interests in protecting highly endangered African ape populations.

Ethical consideration of conservation goals vs individual ape’s interests

Invasive research with chimpanzees is permitted in a number of countries, including both the US and the UK, when the goal of the research is to benefit the species itself.  At the heart of this justification is priority of the interests of the species, rather than the interests of the individual animal. Subordinating the individual ape’s interests to those of his own species is generally consistent with conservation and environmental ethics, where the basic overarching goal is protection of natural resources, balance, and preservation of endangered species.

By contrast, the basic position of those arguing for personhood for great apes, or for animal rights, is to protect the interests of the individual. From the latter perspective, using captive chimpanzees to develop and test a vaccine for a disease that they do not have and that is unlikely to pose a threat to them, would be ethically prohibited.

It is the conservationist position that appears compatible with performing infectious disease and invasive research with captive animals in order to potentially protect highly endangered wild populations from a disease that greatly affects their survival and future.  Whether the species’ interests should outweigh the individual’s as ethical justification for the research and testing is not the only question, however.  We might also ask which individuals should serve in the research?  Should these be laboratory chimpanzees?  Those living in zoos?  Sanctuaries?  The research was conducted in the US, but just as well could be conducted in the UK or other countries with appropriate scientific resources and expertise.

The use of chimpanzees in US biomedical research has received a great deal of attention in the past several years, with the frequent assertion that it is one of only two countries that continue chimpanzee research.  What is actually true is that the US has maintained chimpanzees in research facilities that serve the global scientific community. Foreign scientists, including the British researcher involved in the Ebola vaccine study and Canadian scientists, conduct research in US research centers with chimpanzees.  Following the recent National Institutes of Health decision to move away from the small amount of invasive and infectious disease research involving chimpanzees and retire almost all of its research chimpanzees, it is now far less clear that the US differs substantially from other countries with respect to being the location where Ebola vaccine research should occur.

Given the nature of the justification for the work, there appears to be no legal reason that it would be opposed in the UK or other countries that allow for invasive studies meant to benefit the species. The real threat is that if chimpanzees are not available in research facilities it will be impossible to test vaccines to protect wild apes against deadly diseases, even where regulations permit such research.

So the primary obstacle to performing this work in the UK or elsewhere in the EU might be the absence of laboratory chimpanzees; however, like many countries, the UK does hold captive chimpanzees in other types of facilities. The justification for the work appears to fall within current use of European zoo chimpanzees for research to improve the health of the individual or the species, a recent example being research on heart disease in Zoo ape populations. In addition while the EU Directive on animals in scientific research forbids the use of apes in biomedical research, this ban does not cover “veterinary clinical trials required for the marketing authorisation of a veterinary medicinal product” which would cover vaccines against Ebola or other infectious diseases.

The inherent weighting of species’ interests over the individual’s interests for the Ebola vaccine work is  consistent with the ethical justification often offered for keeping endangered species captive in zoological parks in order to serve conservation goals.  These goals are thought to be served in two ways in zoos: First, by allowing animals to reproduce in carefully managed breeding schemes where decision-making is driven by the goal of maintaining genetic diversity.  In this way, populations of endangered animals are continued within protected environments to guard against the species becoming extinct should the wild population disappear.  The interests of the individual animals may be served by the management practices, but the individual’s welfare is not the primary consideration. Thus, individuals may be removed from stable social groups to move to other zoos and form new breeding pairs, other individuals may not have the opportunity to reproduce.  Surplus males may be castrated, or may live in all-male social groups.  The recent controversy over the killing of a young male giraffe in a Danish zoo provided a vivid example of subordinating an individual animal’s interests to those of the group, species, or zoo.

A second justification offered for zoos is that they provide opportunities for public education that in turn can increase public support for conservation in the wild. The first goal could be served by keeping animals in situations without public display, in sanctuary or private park settings. Thus, it is this second goal that is the primary justification for public zoos. Given that the primary ethical justification for maintaining captive apes in zoos is related to conservation, the idea of considering these animals within the pool of eligible research subjects for vaccine development and testing to serve conservation goals is not unreasonable.

Consideration of the work by Peter Walsh, Kelly Warfield and colleagues, its next steps, and implications for wild chimpanzees poses challenging ethical questions.  The choice to develop and test a vaccine may harm individual animals, but benefit some of their species and other apes, in this case gorillas (and potentially also humans if the threat from Ebola grows). Some will argue that it is wrong to use individual animals in work that does not benefit them directly, though benefit to others has long been considered an adequate justification for clinical trials in humans. Here, ruling out benefits to others as a justification for research would eliminate the possibility of a vaccine that could save highly endangered wild populations.

Questions about which animals serve in research and where the work is undertaken clearly merit serious consideration that takes into account global responsibilities and the recent changes in US chimpanzee research.  Today’s announcement demonstrates that making choices about animal research is complex, with harms not only in action, but also inaction.  The work should stimulate serious, thoughtful discussion not only within the scientific, conservation, and animal protection communities, but also among policy makers and the wider public.

Paul Browne, PhD and Allyson J. Bennett, PhD

  1. Warfield KL, Goetzmann JE, Biggins JE, Kasda MB, Unfer RC, Vu H, Aman MJ, Olinger GG, Walsh PD “Vaccinating captive chimpanzees to save wild chimpanzees” PNAS 2014 Published online 26 May 2014. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/short/1316902111
  2. Warfield KL, Swenson DL, Olinger GG, Kalina WV, Aman MJ, Bavari S. “Ebola virus-like particle-based vaccine protects nonhuman primates against lethal Ebola virus challenge.” J Infect Dis. 2007 Nov 15;196 Suppl 2:S430-7. PMID: 17940980

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Today’s Science live chat: Scientists discuss ethics of studying chimpanzees in captivity

In anticipation of NIH announcing a closely-watched decision on the potential retirement of hundreds of federally-funded chimpanzees, Science is hosting a live chat this afternoon at 3 p.m. EDT. The chat features several well-known scientists who will discuss some key issues relevant to the future of chimpanzee research, including:

“What, if any, research should continue with captive chimpanzees? Are there ethical ways to conduct biomedical studies on our closest relatives? And what do behavioral studies of captive chimps reveal that cannot be learned from studying chimps in the wild and vice versa?”

Scientists contributing to the discussion include:  Prof. William Hopkins, a psychologist who studies behavior and the neurological correlates of various aspects of cognition in chimpanzees. His research has focused mainly on language and communication, handedness and social behavior. He is based both at Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Georgia State University, both in Atlanta. Prof. Pascal Gagneux, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California at San Diego. His work includes field studies of chimpanzees in the Taï Forest, Côte d’Ivoire, as well as laboratory research that relies on biological materials from wild and captive chimpanzees. Prof. Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who has previously been active in advocating for ending much captive chimpanzee research. Hare’s research includes behavioral and cognitive studies of both chimpanzees and bonobos living in African sanctuaries.

Over the course of the past several years the topic of captive chimpanzee research has received extensive consideration by the scientific community, the public, press, and the federal agencies that fund their housing, care, and much of the chimpanzee behavioral and biomedical research. We have written previously about a range of issues that should inform consideration and decision-making about the future of these animals, including those that seem to have received far less public attention than deserved. Among them are understanding of the current housing and care of the animals, responsible plans for the animals’ long-term care, and the definition of ‘invasive’ research.  The topics posed in the live chat description capture many of the central issues, though we would suggest that it could also be framed as “Is it ethical not to study captive chimpanzees?”

Consideration of both the use of chimpanzees in research, as well as responsible plans for their optimal long-term housing and care, are complex issues and deserve serious, fact-based discussion.  We these look forward to hearing today’s discussion with Profs. Hopkins, Gagneux, and Hare and appreciate their willingness to contribute to an important public discussion.

Speaking of Research

Previous posts:

On the definition of invasive research, including video of voluntary, cooperative blood sampling:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/11/21/a-closer-look-at-great-ape-protection-act/

On the cost of retiring chimpanzees and federal legislation aimed at ending chimpanzee research:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/12/08/what-cost-savings-a-closer-look-at-the-great-ape-protection-and-cost-savings-act-of-2011/

http://speakingofresearch.com/2012/12/11/animal-rights-bill-under-consideration-in-the-senate/

Guest post by primatologist Dr. Joseph Erwin:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/10/13/guest-post-efforts-to-ban-chimpanzee-research-are-misguided/

On the IOM chimpanzee panel:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/08/12/facts-must-inform-discussion-of-future-of-chimpanzee-research/

Animal Rights Bill Under Consideration in the Senate

The Great Ape Bill, which would have significant impact on chimpanzee research in the US, is now under consideration in the US Senate.  Over the past year, the legislation has been widely discussed in terms of its aims to:

1) End invasive research with chimpanzees.

2) Move towards retirement of the US chimpanzee research population to sanctuaries.

3) Save costs associated with care of the US chimpanzee research population.

All of these goals have been presented widely in ways that have broad popular appeal.  Efforts to pass this bill have received tremendous energy and are the focus of a range of groups and individuals who have common interests in animal welfare. If it were to succeed, passage of this bill would undoubtedly be historic and significant. It would end invasive chimpanzee research in one of only two countries who currently conduct it within their borders.  Moreover, other countries could neither count the US as a fail-safe for the conduct of invasive ape research, nor could they contract such research in US laboratories.

It is for those reasons, along with consideration of its effects on both the chimpanzees who are its subject and the public who benefit from scientific research, that it is of crucial importance to have thorough understanding and discussion of the bill.  This is true in terms of the likelihood that it will actually result in the benefits that its supporters assume. It is also true in terms of the intended and unintended consequences it may have for animal welfare, science, research with other animals, and long-term costs to the public.

On close examination it is far from clear that the current draft of the legislation – which was proposed in November by Senator Maria Cantwell  – would accomplish the aims that are at the heart of arguments made by its supporters. In fact, one has already been shot down by recent Congressional Budget Office analysis demonstrating that S. 810, The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2012 would provide none of the cost-savings advertised in its title.

More importantly from an animal welfare perspective, the legislation and discussion surrounding it fail to offer for public consideration an effective plan to successfully provide the chimpanzee population with sustainable long-term care under conditions that meet federal sanctuary standards. Without this information it is impossible to determine whether the welfare of the majority of the population of chimpanzees would be best ensured and sustained over their lives.

Thus, discussion of the legislation appears to fall short on planning for all of the chimpanzees’ welfare, which is the presumed central focus of the effort. Furthermore, in absence of a comprehensive plan that would suggest feasible alternatives for the animals’ care and housing, an accurate cost calculation cannot be made.

The complexity of this issue should not be underestimated.  In fact, NIH has already convened an expert group to make recommendations about the chimpanzees’ long-term care, housing, and population size.  A report from the NIH Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-supported research assembled as a result of last year’s Institute of Medicine report is due early next year. One of their tasks is to consider how the “ethologically-relevant” care and housing recommended by the IOM report would be defined and implemented.  Among the issues that remain to be addressed are decision-making about whether key elements of facilities, care and housing for the chimpanzees should differ from the current standards in either research facilities or sanctuaries.

Whether there is sufficient capacity in current facilities or sanctuaries is at also a key issue, as was highlighted earlier this year when NIH announced that newly retired chimpanzees from New Iberia could not move directly to the only federally-funded sanctuary, Chimp Haven, because it did not currently have capacity for a larger number of animals.  As the NIH pointed out, no other sanctuary in the US meets the standards required for retirement of federally-owned chimpanzees.

“At a minimum, sanctuaries that care for NIH-owned chimpanzees must meet the “Standards of Care for Chimpanzees Held in the Federally Supported Sanctuary System”. These standards, which were developed to ensure the safety and welfare of the chimpanzees, include the requirement for the sanctuary to achieve accreditation by a nationally recognized animal program accrediting body, such as the AAALAC or the AZA. NIH is unaware of any sanctuary other than Chimp Haven that meets the standards specified by law or regulation.”

One solution to the housing question is to consider research facilities currently housing chimpanzees as appropriate venues for the animals’ retirement. This would eliminate the need to move the animals and the cost of extensive construction of new facilities.  This solution is controversial however, as was evident in the public response to NIH’s announcement several months ago that retired chimpanzees would be moved from one biomedical research facility to another. The controversy over that decision serves as an illustration of the need to include a much more comprehensive discussion of the range of options—including both their benefits and their costs—for any changes in the long-term care and housing of the US chimpanzee population.

Together all of these considerations raise a question about the central motive for the bill.  Specifically it raises the following questions:  is GAPCSA simply aimed at formalizing via legislation what is already occurring through other channels such as the IoM report on chimpanzee research and the resultant NIH working group tasked with recommendations on the future of chimpanzee research?  Or, is it the intent of GAPCSA’s supporters to capitalize on what is already a near-consensus change in the need and practice of invasive chimpanzee research in order to secure a victory and precedent for an animal rights agenda?

The latter conclusion is suggested by consideration of the little detail provided about contingencies for chimpanzees’ care, alongside the mismatch between the bill and the IoM report.

IOM coverIn a recent revision of the bill apparently aimed at alignment with the IoM report which we discussed earlier, the findings section of the Bill is based almost entirely on the report. Among the scientific findings, we read that while chimpanzees are not frequently used in research today,  “a new, emerging, or remerging disease, or disorder may present challenges to treatment, prevention, or control that defy non-chimpanzees models and available technologies and therefore may require the use of the chimpanzee.”

And yet, the central purpose of the bill has been that “No person shall conduct invasive research on an ape.” In other words, a complete ban on invasive research.

Clearly, there is no logic that can be invoked to support GAPCSA’s effective prohibition of all invasive research based on the IoM’s scientific findings. The assessment that chimpanzees may be required in the future argues exactly for the opposite position.  This is the reason the IoM panel decided not to recommend an outright ban.

It is worth noting that the most recently revised version of the bill allows for exceptions to invasive research, it is our opinion that, as written, the hurdles imposed would effectively imply a complete ban.

 

First, the bill requires that any invasive research be conducted “in an ethologically appropriate physical and social environment; or the great ape’s natural habitat.” Research that involves studying new emergent infectious diseases would be nearly impossible to carry out in such conditions.

 

Second, the bill never defines “ethologically appropiate,” which leaves a door for animal rights opponents of medical research to claim that any proposed laboratory conditions are unacceptable. Indeed, the Humane Society of the Unites States already says that “Chimpanzees are magnificent, intelligent, and social animals capable of a wide range of emotions. Their complex social and emotional needs simply cannot be met in a laboratory environment.”

 

Third, the bill requires HHS to find that forgoing the use of apes in proposed research “will significantly slow or prevent advancements” in the proposed area of research, which is scientifically impossible to determine.

 

Interestingly, the modified bill removed language from the original version which argued for the prohibition based on ethical considerations as well, highlighting the cognitive and emotional ability of apes and the alleged inability to keep these animals while meeting their physical, social and psychological needs.

 

Perhaps the language worried some legislators that saw the same could be said of other species.  Its removal should be no reason for comfort. If you want to understand where all this is heading all you have to do is read a recent article by HSUS’s Kathleen Conlee and Andrew Rowan, where they state their view that

“[...] full replacement of animals in harmful research is within our grasp. The goal will not be reached all at once, however, and phasing out invasive research on all nonhuman primates should be the priority.”

Today apes. Tomorrow all primates. Other species will follow. The Great Ape Bill is just the first step in HSUS’s vision of an end to all animal research by 2050.

It makes sense.  After all, the Bill under consideration does not appear to be about science as it contradicts the IoM recommendations; as explained above, it does not seem to be about animal welfare either; it is truly about animal rights.

As events related to chimpanzees in research in the US have played out over the past year, it has only become more apparent that greater attention to the details and consequences—intended and not—of decisions about the future of chimpanzee research is urgently needed.  Serious deliberation is needed not only to inform evaluation of this legislation, but also to guide decision-making to ensure that the relevant ethical issues are fully considered.

There is no question that chimpanzee research in the US has changed significantly over the past several decades.  Last year’s report from the Institute of Medicine panel convened by NIH in order to consider the future of chimpanzee research provided ample evidence of consensus in both the scientific community and others concerned with animals in research that continuing changes are appropriate and inevitable. At the same time, it is clear that there is little consensus that the GAPCSA legislation is the best way to move forward.

GAPCSA takes the unusual and unprecedented step of prohibiting an entire animal research model, something that should be of concern to all scientists.  As Judith Bond, President of FASEB, recognized “Even if you do not work with great apes, you should be concerned about this bill because it would end research deemed by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to be ethically sound and scientifically important and could pave the way for legislation to ban research with other species.”

Unless you are an animal rights proponent, the GAPCSA is not the way forward.

Speaking of Research

Previous SR posts on chimpanzee research and GAPCSA cover the wording of the act, the question of costs, a primatologist’s perspective, the Institute of Medicine’s report, and a recent response to a constituent’s letter.

Frans de Waal’s Ethical Arguments Need Clarification

In a recent perspective, Professor Frans de Waal argues that chimpanzees deserve “special moral status.”  The statement comes on the heels of a recent report by the Institute of Medicine who proposed strict criteria on the use of chimps on biomedical research.

According to de Waal there are compelling ethical reasons to ban all invasive work on chimps, but he argues that one should “not throw out the baby with the bathwater by also curtailing non-harmful behavioral research” as well.  He defines ethically permissible research in chimps as “the sort of research I would not mind doing on human volunteers.”

While Prof. de Waal ought to be applauded for sharing his views on the use of chimps in scientific research, I think he moves too fast through weak and vague ethical reasoning to reach his main conclusion.

Opponents of animal research, for example, are likely to point out his definition of ethically permissible research should read instead “the sort of research [one] would not mind doing on human volunteers who also agree to live in captivity in the same conditions as the chimps.” 

They will also point out that human subjects that volunteer in scientific research, whether invasive or behavioral, provide their informed consent.  Moreover, human subjects retain a right to withdraw their participation at any point in time, and they are never deprived from their liberties and freedom.  Opponents of research will further argue harm comes to these animals by the mere fact they are forced to live in captivity.

It is unclear how de Waal would defend his work from the stated position in his perspective. Perhaps the “special moral status” de Waal wants to grant to chimps and other great apes is not meant to be interpreted as including the same basic rights to liberty and freedom as those enjoyed by humans.  If so, he should state this clearly.  His position is vague and confusing because in the same perspective he seems to approve some countries granting great apes legal rights.

There are other problems that emerge from de Waal ill-articulated ethical position.  He states the basis for awarding great apes special moral status is based on their high cognitive skills, as well as their capacity to display empathy and pro-social behavior. At the same time he believes the same intrinsic properties are present in varying degrees in other species — there are many differences between chimps and monkeys in cognitive capacities, but we consider them mostly gradual differences.” Given such graded abilities it is not clear how de Waal would draw a line between those species that deserve such “special moral status” and those that do not.  Or if there are other morally relevant properties that he did not mention.

Finally, I think de Waal correctly points out that humans should not be allowed to blame nature to explain our history of violence, warfare, and male dominance.  The reason is that only humans are capable of reflecting on the question of how is that we should treat others, including non-human living beings.  Yes, we have a moral obligation to consider the interest of other living beings in our actions.  But, as Carl Cohen explained, we should not confuse our moral obligations to other living beings with them having basic rights. Rights entail obligations, but the reverse is not always true.

There is wide agreement (and I concur) that the interests of great apes deserve high moral consideration, more so than those of a mouse or a worm. But it is worth noting that such principle of graded moral status is already implicitly acknowledged in the NIH guidelines which require scientists to use the “lowest” possible species that can yield the information they seek.  In this regard, the IoM panel finding that there is only a minimal need to use chimps in scientific research is not a truly reflection of their inadequacy to model disease (chimps could certainly be used in many studies to answer good scientific questions), but of our existing recognition that they deserve high moral status and that they can only be used under the most  extreme circumstances.

Part 2: University of Toronto ends live primate research – Outsourcing Controversy

 Earlier this week we wrote about the University of Toronto’s public statements concerning the end of their on-site primate research. A number of broader questions were raised by considering similar cases and articles.  Among them, what does it mean for a university to claim that it does not engage in a particular type of research?  In the case of the University of Toronto, the same article announcing the end of their primate research indicated that Univesity of Toronto researchers will continue primate studies at other institutions. 

Although this seems like a small point that concerns only a single animal research program, it is illustrative of larger questions and issues that deserve more thoughtful consideration.  One is what it means to say that a researcher, institution, or nation does or does not conduct a particular type of research. It is not at all obvious, and thus is an easy thing to manipulate in public presentation. For example, ask the following questions:

  1. Does that mean only that they do not house animals and conduct studies, or do not conduct that work independently on their own campus or within their own borders?
  2. Or does it mean that they not only do not conduct the work, but also do not support the work in any way, with collaborative effort, resources, or their approval? 
  3. Or does it mean that they not only do not conduct the work, but also do not support the work and would refuse any benefit arising from the work?

It is not only the University of Toronto ending its housing of monkeys and instead relying on collaborative opportunities in the U.S.that raises these questions. The point is also well illustrated in considering whether Canada and other countries are, or are not, involved in biomedical research with chimpanzees. One of the frequently raised points used to argue against ape research is that biomedical research with chimpanzees is conducted in only two countries — the U.S. and Gabon.  But what does that mean? And is that really true?

In fact, a recent CTV news show highlighted the fact that studies for Canadians are performed at a U.S. chimpanzee research facility funded largely by a federal grant to maintain national research resources in the U.S.  The fact that Canadians are involved in chimpanzee research is not hidden in any way, but is easy to misconstrue.

In Canada, there’s no outright ban, but no one is actually doing it.

Instead, Canadians commission studies at research facilities like the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana, the largest facility of its type in the world. It’s home to nearly 7,000 primates, 360 of them chimpanzees.”

It is not only Canadians. Scientists from a number of other countries engage in behavioral and biomedical research collaboration involving chimpanzees housed in U.S. research institutions. Furthermore, when the Netherlands became the last European country to ban chimpanzee research almost a decade ago, it was acknowledged that because the opportunity for chimpanzee research remained in the U.S.everyone could be assured of continuation of the work without the cost, controversy, or responsibility of having to maintain the possibility within their own country.  A 2003 article highlights this point:

The end of European ape research, long sought by animal rights activists, was accelerated by a report published in 2001 by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW). It concluded that high costs and decreasing scientific need had made chimp studies all but superfluous. In rare instances where ape research will be crucial to combat a human disease, the panel said, large colonies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S. would be better equipped.

However, even in parliament itself some hypocrisy was acknowledged. Because ‘if the occasion arises’, the government quoted the KNAW report, Dutch researchers would still be free to do experiments abroad. Observed House member Bas van der Vlies (SGP): ‘Since through a back door [the Netherlands will profit from [ape research elsewhere, I see no reason for us to start beating our chests like gorillas.’”

The point made by Bas van der Vlies is a good one and one especially relevant now as the U.S. weighs legislation to end invasive chimpanzee research.  It is also more broadly relevant because it underscores why the decision of single entity, institution or nation, to end a particular type of research must be viewed within the context of the range of alternative opportunities and avenues that will serve the overall goal.  In other words, the decision to ban an avenue of research means one thing if that choice will result in a true end to the work. The same decision is inherently less risky if it is cushioned by knowledge that another institution or another country is committed to maintaining that research avenue and shouldering the accompanying burdens.

It is also true that the decision to “end” a particular kind of work is often more reflective of different types of cost considerations.  For example, note increasing outsourcing of animal research to other countries with less developed regulatory structure and lower costs. Whether that is good for animal welfare, science, research institutions, and the public is a topic of discussion among scientists and is one that should be given more thoughtful public consideration. We believe the US public is better served by advocating for reasonable improvements in animal welfare while keeping important medical research at home. The adoption of unrealistic policies and regulations that dramatically increase the cost of the work, while not significantly impacting on the well-being of the animals, will help drive the research overseas, with negative consequences on the biomedical leadership of our country and uncertain consequences for the well-being of the animals.  

So how do we tell the difference between individuals, institutions, and countries genuinely committed on moral or ethical grounds to ending particular types of research, rather than in only displacing it to others?  One piece of evidence would be for those claiming that the work is either unnecessary or unethical to also make clear that they do not simply outsource the work to other institutions or countries. 

Another would be for them to decline any benefits from the work.  For example, although we are aware of no efforts underway to preclude citizens of countries that disallowed such work to benefit from the findings or any advances made through chimpanzee biomedical research, for example hepatitis C vaccines currently under development, it would seem that this would be an easy way for people to affirm their commitment to the global picture. (Whether it should be habitat countries or a world-wide body who provides consent on behalf of the wild apes for whom conservationists are arguing should benefit from vaccines developed from research in laboratory studies of nonhuman primates might be a separate issue.)

What is gained from considering this more complicated picture?  In the case of the recent University of Toronto press coverage, a reminder that it is disingenuous at best to solicit public approval by disavowing research that the institution has conducted, has benefited from, and will continue to be involved in — albeit with the majority of risk and cost assumed by other institutions. In the case of chimpanzee research, a reminder that as long as non-U.S. interests benefit from and participate in studies conducted in the U.S., it is not accurate to claim that it is only the U.S.that sanctioned and benefited from such work.  And that includes the apes in Africa who could benefit from the vaccines developed via laboratory research in theU.S. and elsewhere.

Finally, we would advise a critical eye towards any articles in which universities, pharmaceutical companies, or countries claim that they are not engaged in primate or other animal research.  Those who have simply chosen to do the same work elsewhere or via collaboration should be clear about their involvement. Similarly, those whose work depends on data, tissues, or animal models developed by others, or at other institutions, should acknowledge a responsibility and involvement in the live animal work as well. 

Allyson J. Bennett

What Cost Savings? A Closer Look at the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011

The status and future of chimpanzee research in the US are at the heart of much discussion lately in both scientific and public (also here and here) spheres.  A committee convened by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to consider the issue held a number of meetings and is expected to report its findings to the NIH by the end of this year. Legislation to end great ape research, also introduced in 2007 and 2009 (H.R. 1513: Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011;  S. 810: Great Ape  Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011; GAPA), was again introduced last Spring. This is the fourth of a series of posts aimed at encouraging thoughtful and fact-based consideration of the full range of complex issues associated with chimpanzee research and both short- and long-term responsibility for their welfare, care and housing. Posts include:

08/12/11: Facts must inform discussion of future of chimpanzee research.

10/13/11: Joseph M. Erwin, PhD Efforts to ban chimpanzee research are misguided.

11/21/11: A closer look at the Great Ape Protection Act.

Previous posts and other discussions of chimpanzee research have focused on ethical questions, animal welfare, and ongoing evaluation of the role chimpanzees do play, or should play, in scientific research.  These are the most important issues to address in discussion of the future of great apes in the U.S. At the same time, this year’s version of the Great Ape Protection Act has included a new focus, with addition of the phrase “and Cost Savings.”  The new language and the calculations given as basis for its assertions have received relatively little careful broad discussion or evaluation.

According to cost analysis for the legislation compiled by the Humane Society of the United States, the majority of cost-savings from GAPA – 76% – would result from ending federal grants for projects involving chimpanzees.  Of the “nearly $30 million saved annually” over $22 million reflects funds committed to support research projects that involve chimpanzees and are funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

HSUS GAPA Cost Analysis

It appears that this number was arrived at by summing the cost of all NIH grants that involve chimpanzees, regardless of their topic or the types of activities in which the animals are engaged. Whether this number could reflect the total funds invested in what is commonly considered invasive research is not readily apparent. Some of these grants may involve noninvasive studies, others may be dedicated to studies that require as little as samples of DNA—something commonly done in human studies. It does appear that the underlying assumption for the cost analysis is a complete block on any NIH research grants that involve chimpanzees. (We welcome correction if this is not an assumption of the HSUS analysis or any cost analysis used to support the claims associated with GAPA.)

The remaining savings are projected from reduction in care costs if the animals were moved to sanctuaries.  Whether sanctuaries provide lower-cost care than research facilities is subject to some debate, in part because care costs vary across facilities. This is illustrated in the most recent data published by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) October 31, 2011 “Costs for Maintaining Humane Care and Welfare of Chimpanzees:”

Based on the most recent awards and payments, NIH is spending an average of $35 per day per chimpanzee in research facilities; $67.00 per day per chimpanzee in the research reserve facility at Alamogordo Primate Facility (APF); and $47 per day per chimpanzee in the federal sanctuary facility operated by Chimp Haven. The average for research facilities becomes $44 per day if the research reserve facility at APF is included. See Table 1 for detailed figures.”

The reasons for variance in costs are complex. Among other things, they do not reflect differences in housing, clinical care, or health status of the animals (e.g., older animals or animals with chronic health problems may require more expensive treatment and care). But overall, the numbers reported by NCRR show a rough equivalence in care costs at the federal sanctuary and many research facilities.

Table 1 “Costs for Maintaining Humane Care and Welfare of Chimpanzees, October 31, 2011

Research

Facility

# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11
(total)

NCRR cost*,
$M/year
(total)

NCRR cost,
$/animal/day,
(avg)

NIRC

117

1.23

28.8

K-CCMR

154

2.56

45.5

SNPRC (P51)

125

1.02

22.4

SNPRC (U42)

25

.047

56.3

Total

(421)

(5.3)

(34.5)

Research Reserve

Facility

# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11
(total)

NCRR cost*,
$M/year
(total)

NCRR cost,
$/animal/day,
(avg)

APF

173

4.25

67.4

Federal Sanctuary

Facility

# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11
(total)

NCRR cost*,
$M/year
(total)

NCRR cost,
$/animal/day,
(avg)

Chimp
Haven

119

2.03

46.7

What is not shown by these numbers or by most of the discussion of GAPA are the number of other issues that should accompany thoughtful consideration of the long-term care and housing of chimpanzees.  Dr. Joseph Erwin provided commentary on many of these in a previous guest post, among them concerns about ensuring the highest quality of care for the animals:

Most chimpanzees in scientific and educational institutions (research colonies and zoological gardens) live in spacious, social, and secure environments, where they are provided with excellent professional healthcare, and are afforded protection under the Animal Welfare Act, through inspection by the USDA, and publicly available reports of those inspections. The legislative ban would require removal of chimpanzees from decent facilities that were built at great public expense, and would deposit hundreds of chimpanzees in “sanctuaries” that provide no assurance of competent professional care, are not subject to Animal Welfare Act protection, and are not publicly transparent.”

One of the biggest unanswered (and virtually unmentioned in public spheres) questions surrounding the effects of this legislation is where it is that these chimpanzees would go? Is the intent that they would stay in current facilities? That new facilities would be constructed? While some animal rights groups have advocated for moving chimpanzees from their current research facilities to Chimp Haven, there is little information that would indicate that is a feasible option. Nor do the discussions of cost-savings and future plans include information about projected costs to build sufficient sanctuary space that could accommodate the number of animals currently housed in research facilities.

This is a non-trivial issue. For example, the publicly-available NCRR cost information informs us that the cost to construct the only federally-funded chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven, was $11.8 million. Chimp Haven houses 130 animals.  In other words, the initial construction cost was just over $90,000 per chimpanzee.

There are an additional 594 NIH-supported chimpanzees currently housed in research facilities. There are also hundreds of privately-owned chimpanzees. Thus, on even rough calculation based on the construction cost of Chimp Haven, it would appear that at least many millions of dollars would be required to extend the capacity for sanctuary housing to these animals. 

 

The cost, feasibility, and plan for constructing additional facilities that could provide care for these chimpanzees does not seem apparent in the cost calculations for the current legislation. Nor is it an issue raised much in public discussion.  It is a relatively easy thing to call for an end to chimpanzee research and to encourage public support by appealing to fiscal conservatism. What is far more challenging is to include consideration of real factors that significantly influence the outcomes for the animals, including an accurate assessment of where they can be housed, how best practices for care can be supported, real costs and dedicated sources of funding for long-term maintenance and facilities. Those details matter and deserve far more attention than they currently receive by those claiming to have chimpanzees’ welfare as the utmost priority.

Allyson J. Bennett

A Closer Look at the Great Ape Protection Act (GAPA)

The status and future of chimpanzee research in the US are at the heart of much discussion lately in both scientific and public spheres.  A committee convened by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to consider the issue held a number of meetings and is expected to report its findings to the NIH by the end of this year. Legislation to end great ape research, also introduced in 2007 and 2009 (H.R. 1513: Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011;  S. 810: Great Ape  Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011; GAPA), was again introduced last Spring.

Discussion of human relationships with the great apes, their role in research—past, present, and future—and our responsibility for their continued care deserve thoughtful, well-informed consideration by both the scientific community and the public.  One of the primary goals of Speaking of Research is to contribute to dialogue about animal research and to provide factual information that is sometimes missing from the public conversation.

In the case of chimpanzee research, their housing and care, and the GAPA legislation, it seems clear that there is uneven understanding of the current situation in the U.S., as well as lack of attention to the details and consequences of the proposed legislation were it to be enacted.  There has been significant and widespread discussion of whether chimpanzee research should continue.  What has received far less attention is what should happen to the chimpanzees should invasive research not continue. We take a closer look at GAPA here and also welcome others’ thoughts on the future of chimpanzee research, care, and housing in the U.S..

First up is the question of what exactly would be banned under GAPA.  The legislation is pitched as a measure to end invasive research with chimpanzees.  Much of the media coverage and discussion of chimpanzees in research also makes specific reference to invasive studies.

But what exactly does that mean?  The general definition given by the legislation is:

“The term ‘invasive research’ means any research that may cause death, injury,         pain, distress, fear, or trauma to a great ape, including—

– the testing of any drug or intentional exposure to a substance that may be detrimental to the health or psychological well-being of a great ape;

– research that involves penetrating or cutting the body or removing body parts, restraining, tranquilizing, or anesthetizing a great ape; or

– isolation, social deprivation, or other experimental manipulations that may be detrimental to the health or psychological well-being of a great ape.

Exclusions include:

– close observation of natural or voluntary behavior of a great ape, if the research does not require an anesthetic or sedation event to collect data or record observations;

– the temporary separation of a great ape from the social group of the great ape, leaving and returning by the own volition of the great ape;

– post-mortem examination of a great ape that was not killed for the purpose of examination or research; and the administration of a physical exam by a licensed veterinarian or physician conducted for the well-being of the individual great ape.

Physical Exam is defined as:

A physical exam conducted for the well-being of an individual great ape, as described in clause14 (i)(IV), may include the collection of biological samples to further the well-being of the individual great ape, the social group of the great ape, or the great ape species.”

It seems likely that when most people think of invasive research with chimpanzees they would probably consider studies that involve surgery or infectious disease.  Looking at the text above, it appears obvious that these would be precluded under GAPA.

What is less clear is whether noninvasive studies would also be disallowed under GAPA. Why?

First, because it precludes “research that involves … anesthetizing a great ape” something that is typically necessary to ensure both human and animal safety for studies that use noninvasive techniques such as neuroimaging (ex. magnetic resonance imaging, MRI; positron emission tomography, PET). Studies using MRI and PET with nonhuman primates are aimed at a wide spectrum of research addressing questions that range from evolutionary consideration of brain-behavior relationships to uncovering the effects of aging and factors that contribute to individual differences in health. Are these the types of studies—using equipment and techniques that are commonly used with humans– that typically come to mind as invasive studies? Probably not.

Whether anesthetizing a chimpanzee is an invasive procedure or one that is stressful is not clear-cut and is a question likely to generate a wide range of views among those with first-hand chimpanzee experience.  In part, it depends upon whether animals are trained to voluntarily, calmly, and cooperatively receive injections—something that is a best practice successfully implemented at many chimpanzee research facilities.  This video, shared with us by Dr. Steven Schapiro and the Michael E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research  serves as an excellent illustration of the practice.

The video shows a chimpanzee voluntarily, and without coercion, working with his human caregivers to give a sample of blood in exactly the manner of a human blood donor. The chimpanzees shown here are part of a training program led by a long-time leading expert in behavior and primatology, Dr. Schapiro. The video shows a chimpanzee who voluntarily places and holds his arm in a tube to provide a technician with access to draw blood. The chimpanzee is not restrained and is not coerced. The technician cues the chimpanzee with a “clicker” which provides an audible cue to signal the animal. The chimpanzee remains calm throughout the process and receives treats. The curious and calm approach and observation by another chimpanzee also tells us that the entire process is one that is not stressful to the animals.

Much of the language surrounding GAPA appears to be designed to convey a very different impression of the care of chimpanzees housed in research settings. We believe that a more honest discussion of chimpanzees in research should include consideration of the full range of housing and behavioral management, including acknowledgement of best practices such as those illustrated in this video and practiced in a wide range of settings.

The second question about what GAPA would preclude surrounds behavioral and cognitive research.  Many of these studies depend upon testing animals individually by temporarily separating them from their groups. GAPA asserts that such studies would be allowed only under very stringent—and possibly impractical—conditions. The chimpanzee could be temporarily separated from his/her group, but only if it were able to leave and return by its own volition.

For example, consider a recent study of prosocial behavior in chimpanzees by Frans de Waal and colleagues that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.  This study was positively featured on a Scientific American blog that also endorses GAPA. The study was conducted by bringing pairs of animals into a testing room containing tokens that they could exchange with the experimenter for a food reward. Their choices could result in both animals receiving food, or in a “selfish” outcome. The methods section doesn’t specify whether the animals were free to leave and enter the test room at their own volition, but it appears that they were not. If not, would we consider it invasive research?

A third question is whether GAPA would preclude studies that depend upon collection of biological samples that are acquired while animals are anesthetized for physical exams.  The language surrounding this is somewhat ambiguous, as it allows the sample collection if it is to “further the well-being of the individual great ape, the social group of the great ape, or the great ape species.”  What is not ambiguous is that, as written, GAPA would preclude even a simple blood draw—something humans routinely receive as part of medical care or even research—outside of an annual physical exam.

In sum, the issue of defining invasive research and the parameters of what should be allowed is clearly a complex issue. That complexity should be acknowledged in discussions of the future of chimpanzee research.  Virtually all of the procedures used in biomedical research involving chimpanzees that are regarded as invasive procedures are used in human beings in providing medical care.  The GAPA regards these procedures as acceptable if performed for the benefit of the individual great ape to provide care to that animal, but it is unacceptable if it is performed to gain knowledge that will improve the care of human beings or other great apes.

Similarly challenging are a range of other issues presented by consideration of the future of chimpanzees in the U.S., including decisions about their housing and care, as well as the source of long-term funding.

One premise of GAPA is that “research laboratory environments involving invasive research cannot meet the complex physical, social, and psychological needs of great apes.”  Sanctuaries are offered as the alternative for housing, yet little of the public discussion has focused on rigorous comparison of sanctuaries and research facilities in terms of either care offered or cost.

Finally, in this year’s iteration, the legislation has added language about “cost-savings” that appears to be based in analysis provided by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).  Whether the cost-savings claim is accurate or not remains open for debate.  Each of these issues will be covered in more detail in subsequent posts.

Whether the current legislation about great ape research passes or not, at this time it is perhaps more apparent than ever before that public interest in discussing the welfare of these animals is high. We hope that this interest carries over to serious discussion about the full range of issues and not only those that lend themselves to short-interest and emotive campaigns.

Allyson J. Bennett

*Disclosure – some of my collaborative research has involved behavioral and neuroimaging studies in laboratory chimpanzees.

Other posts on chimpanzee research:

On the cost of retiring chimpanzees and federal legislation aimed at ending chimpanzee research:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/12/08/what-cost-savings-a-closer-look-at-the-great-ape-protection-and-cost-savings-act-of-2011/

http://speakingofresearch.com/2012/12/11/animal-rights-bill-under-consideration-in-the-senate/

Guest post by primatologist Dr. Joseph Erwin:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/10/13/guest-post-efforts-to-ban-chimpanzee-research-are-misguided/

On the IOM chimpanzee panel:  http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/08/12/facts-must-inform-discussion-of-future-of-chimpanzee-research/