Tag Archives: National Institutes of Health

Opinions, evidence, and anti-research agendas: A recap of a session at the American Society of Primatologists/International Primatological Society Meeting 2016

Research with nonhuman primates in laboratory settings is a tiny fraction of both laboratory research and nonhuman primate research. The topic is of disproportionate interest, however, for many reasons, and is reflected by a recent symposium at the joint meeting of The American Society of Primatologists and International Primatological Society. The session was titled “Use and care of captive non-human primates: Evaluating and improving ethical requirements.”  The session was notable for a number of reasons.

  • Despite its inclusion in the scientific program of scientific societies, the session presented little evidence and little balance.
  • The panelists were tied to organizations and/or campaigns opposed to laboratory research with nonhuman primates, yet did not disclose these ties upfront and failed to provide their basic starting assumptions or to acknowledge their positions.
  • The fact-less rhetoric did not provide a basis for productive discussion about captive primate care or changes to existing regulations, as would have been provided with evidence-based presentations.
Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

Rhesus monkeys at the California National Primate Research Center. Photo credit: Kathy West

Starting assumptions

We wrote yesterday about why providing basic starting assumptions is key when entering any dialogue, particularly when that dialogue involves conversations about the ethical and moral considerations related to the use of animals in biomedical research. If basic starting assumptions are not put forth at the start of a dialogue, then potential areas for agreement cannot be identified – if they in fact exist at all.

Unfortunately, this tenet was not practiced during the symposium. The organizers, anthropologists Drs. Barbara J. King and Marni M. LaFleur, wrote that the symposium was intended to“invite IPS and ASP members to come together and discuss how we may best manage the care and oversight of captive-living nonhuman primates.” At face value, this invitation seemed like a safe haven for “discussion and collaboration amongst researchers, veterinarians, technicians, and caregivers.” (In fact, data-driven sessions like these occur regularly at ASP meetings amongst the experts who care for and study captive primates.) However, the organizers and panelists failed to disclose their basic assumptions upfront, namely that they oppose the use of nonhuman primates in biomedical research.

Several speakers in the symposium have affiliated with campaigns by PETA, an organization that very clearly offers an absolutist position stating that animals should never be experimented on. The Vice President of Animal Research Issues at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Kathleen Conlee, was also featured. HSUS’ position is less clear, though one of Conlee’s slides stated that the organization’s aim is to “Promote 3R’s but push for replacement of invasive research as quickly as possible.”

Macaques. Kathy West. CNPRC. 17

Macaques. Photo credit: Kathy West

As many attendees of the session attested after it concluded, the panelists’ failure to establish positions upfront resulted in a session with a very narrow focus that did not actually result in constructive discussion. Although the speakers’ stances on biomedical research were not stated upfront, they became readily apparent in each presentation.

The symposium followed a roundtable format, with the 6 speakers each presenting for about 5 minutes and a Q&A session for about an hour and a half afterward. Notably, the speakers did not include information on the well-established regulations and processes that are in place to balance research objectives, animal welfare, and public interests in scientific advances. (In 2015, ASP held a roundtable that thoroughly addressed these topics with evidence-based material.) Some presenters did show historical timelines of a few pieces of legislation enacted to address and ensure animal welfare (e.g., the passage of and amendments to the Animal Welfare Act), though nearly all presentations were lacking in evidence-based arguments. Instead, they often relied on outdated and out-of-context photographs (some from undercover investigations, which Conlee proudly acknowledged to the audience that HSUS had undertaken). Granted, the 5-minute time-slot for each speaker precluded the ability to delve into details, but one has to wonder if this format was a means to deliberately exclude the evidence-based regulations and processes that exist for laboratory animals.

Macaque. Kathy West. CNPRC.

Macaque. Kathy West. CNPRC.

Who should evaluate primate research?

The first speaker, LaFleur, wrote in the abstract of her presentation: “Ethical standards and cost-benefit analyses of non-human primates in research must continually be evaluated and reevaluated, by a diverse range of experts (including those without vested interests).” By “vested interests,” LaFleur presumably meant those working in primate research. What wasn’t clear is whether the panelists believe that they themselves and organizations such as PETA and HSUS also have clearly vested interests. For example, PETA has an extremely vested interests in this issue, yet nowhere during the session was it disclosed that panelist King has worked actively on campaigns organized by PETA (for other panelists’ ties to PETA; see below).

Most important though, from the perspective of beginning with fact:  The analyses of non-human primates in research to which LaFleur refers already routinely occurs by experts in the field: the trained scientists, veterinarians, and colony managers, including many members of ASP, who work with primates in captive settings on a daily basis and dedicate much of their research programs toward understanding and improving their welfare (see, for one recent example, this special issue of the American Journal of Primatology, dedicated solely to the well-being of laboratory nonhuman primates).

LaFleur also wrote in her abstract, “I argue that experimental procedures which cause permanent and irreversible harm on individual non-human primates should not be deemed ethically permissible.”

Macaques. Kathy West. CNPRC. 19

Photo credit: Kathy West

Yet, LaFleur failed to make a clear case for exactly why her position is justified in a way that is more appropriate than the position held by others who were part of the multi-level review that weighs scientific objectives and animal welfare and grants approval for research projects.

Furthermore, the slides that LaFleur presented at the conference showed data-free descriptions not of experimental procedures broadly, but of a single research topic. Her focus was on studies of infant development in monkeys (work she termed “maternal deprivation”) at the NIH and the criticism that she, King, and others leveled at ASP in regards to the society’s open support for research at the NIH. For example, in one of her slides, LaFleur stated that 54 members of ASP had signed a letter she co-authored to ASP asking for a reconsideration of their support letter for an NIH research project. In fact, in reading through the list of signatories, it is not at all clear to long-time members of ASP whether many of the signatories had ever been members of the society. One must question why this misinformation was presented at such a large meeting and also why this single research topic was the focus.

Another slide asked the question, “Can we not have differing opinions from our friends and colleagues?” Of course differing opinions may exist. What we strive for, however, are regulations and policies that are based in scientific evidence in order to provide for animal health and well-being. In the context of dialogue and the supposed focus on the symposium, the larger question is whether focusing on differing opinions about one research project and one area of study is a good substitute for serious and thoughtful consideration to identify core principles that can guide continuing changes in practice and policy.

Dr. Stacy Lopresti-Goodman came closest to laying out her basic assumptions upfront in her abstract, in which she wrote, “the primate research community should consider whether retirement of all NHP from biomedical research to sanctuary is warranted.” Lopresti-Goodman provided a few slides that cited research studies to back her written statement that “many individuals who experience…adverse conditions exhibit abnormal and/or stereotypic behaviors, and develop symptoms of psychological distress that mirror those of psychopathology in humans,” though it is notable that she did not disclose at any time during the session that she has co-authored articles with PETA employees and others staunchly opposed to animal research.

Zebrafish: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Zebrafish: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Moreover, several in the audience questioned her direct knowledge, experience, and expertise on the topic given her training and publication record in human perception and cognition.


Evaluating a claim from HSUS:  What is the evidence on environmental enrichment for nonhuman primates in captive settings?

In the US, all facilities registered or licensed to house nonhuman primates by the federal agency charged with oversight and enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) are required to have a plan for environmental enrichment for those animals. Evidence-based evaluation of practices aimed at meeting the goal of maintaining animals’ health and well-being, in balance with scientific objectives, is the subject of research by many ASP members and those scientific results are on display at most ASP meetings.  The findings inform practices across the range of settings in which nonhuman primates live in captivity.

Conlee’s symposium presentation took a very narrow view, focusing on an analysis that her organization (HSUS) completed of enrichment plans from 38 universities and 18 federal facilities. Those plans were obtained, in part, via use of open records laws. The analysis was aimed at evaluating whether the plans were compliant with federal law. The abstract made a startling claim:  “Plans were scored according to compliance with the minimum Animal Welfare Act standards … The analysis revealed a majority of plans (44) were not adequate.”  To be clear, what that claim suggests is that 44% of the facilities — facilities that are regularly inspected by a federal agency, the USDA– are failing to comply with federal law.

Marmosets. Kathy West. CNPRC.

Titi monkeys. Photo credit: Kathy West

Serious claim – can it be evaluated?  Unfortunately, not well.  The analysis is unpublished and unavailable for public view or critique. Conlee provided no details about the methodology, including critical definitions of coding schemes for “plans [that] were scored according to compliance with the minimum Animal Welfare Act standards” and the subsequent data analysis.

The results Conlee presented were confined to bullet points on one slide rather than actual data with accompanying statistical analysis. Collectively, the “study” did not meet ASP’s (and other societies’) criteria for scientific presentations, but was nonetheless was presented as though it were an empirical study. While that is disappointing enough, the fact that the presentation and abstract made serious claims potentially misrepresenting a large number of dedicated research centers is even more reason to hold presenters to a standard of evidence.

Finally, Conlee presented a slide stating, “USDA requirements for all regulated facilities: no change in 30 years.” However, this statement is misleading. As Justin McNulty, IACUC & IBC Manager at The University of Texas at Austin, pointed out in the discussion following the presentations, “The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals was just revised in 2011 and was reviewed by some of the people in this room. The recommendations contained in the Guide were based on published data, scientific principles, and expert opinion.” As described in the preface to the 8th Edition of The Guide, “The Guide is intended to assist investigators in fulfilling their obligation to plan and conduct animal experiments in accord with the highest scientific, humane, and ethical principle.”

Lack of evidence for the benefit-risk ratio in laboratory primate research?

LaFleur also gave King’s presentation in her absence. In her written abstract, King wrote, “I will discuss case studies that are lab-based and involve maternal-deprivation and other invasive experiments on cercopithecines; peer-reviewed scientific material from both the cercopithecine and also the comparative chimpanzee literature will provide context for discussing the benefit-harm ratio of such research on monkeys.” However, this presentation also lacked evidence-based claims and relied on references from the news media, as in one slide that touted the primate facilities that closed, or are in the process of phasing out, in 2015. In giving the presentation, LaFleur incorrectly stated that, with respect to the phasing out of the NICHD’s primate research, “those 300 monkeys [were] from the maternal deprivation work.”  This is false: only a small percentage of the colony at this facility each year has undergone nursery-rearing. Furthermore, as noted above, the actual process in place for evaluating balance of potential benefit and scientific objectives with animal welfare was not well addressed by the panelists.


Collectively, the session left much to be desired for those seeking data-driven suggestions for improving the captive care of non-human primates. As Dr. Karen Hambright, Professor of Psychology at the College of Coastal Georgia and long-time ASP member, stated during the discussion period, “As an educator who has worked with and is familiar with the conditions of animals in both zoos and labs, it my job to teach people to think critically and to base their views on evidence and not on emotional responses to polarizing rhetoric.”

King and LaFleur’s symposium abstract ended with the question, “How specifically can productive discussion about ethics be furthered among primatologists who work primarily on lab science and primatologists who work primarily on animal welfare, always acknowledging that these two groups may overlap?” A good start would be to enact practices that are foundational to any honest dialogue: namely, spelling out basic positions upfront and disclosing any potential conflicts of interest. Productive discussion could then ensue with evidence-based comments and suggestions.

Amanda Dettmer

Amanda M. Dettmer, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Her writing does not reflect the opinions of the NICHD or the NIH.


Public dialogue about US research chimpanzee retirement: Unanswered questions

Growing concerns about NIH’s plan for retired research chimpanzees summarized in a WIRED article last week continue to provoke more questions than answers. These questions fall into three general areas discussed below. In many cases, they are questions that could stem simply from a lack of transparent, public information. One example of this is found in the reported deaths of nine chimpanzees within 18-months of transfer to the federal sanctuary, Chimp Haven. Whether the number of deaths is higher than expected given the age, health, and average mortality rates for chimpanzees is unclear and has not been addressed with public, factual information about what happened to those nine animals.

Similarly missing is information needed for serious consideration and public dialogue about the plan for relocating chimpanzees; continuing research with retired chimpanzees; and the processes and standards in place for chimpanzee care, external oversight, and public transparency across different types of facilities. Rather than addressing these questions, some have instead simply dismissed “the lab community” as unfair critics of the federal sanctuary (for example, Chimp Haven’s CEO).  That response fails to answer what should be common concerns not only across the many communities that care about chimpanzees, but also more broadly to the public that ultimately provides support for the animals, the research, and the policies that set the framework for decisions that govern chimpanzee care across the many facilities in which they live.

Three sets of questions—largely unanswered—that are integral to informed, serious, public consideration of the future of US chimpanzees are summarized below. They are:

Photo credit: Kathy West

Photo credit: Kathy West

  • Chimpanzee health and well-being: Is everything that can be done to ensure the best care, health, and well-being of the chimpanzees being done?
  • Research:  Should federally-supported retired research chimpanzees within sanctuaries be involved in research?
  • Decisions and evidence: What is the process for decision-making?  How are conflicts of interests handled?  What kind of evidence supports the decisions about chimpanzee health and well-being?

1)  Chimpanzee health and well-being: Is everything that can be done to ensure the best care, health, and well-being of the chimpanzees being done?

First and foremost are questions about the animals’ health and well-being.  The primary question here is whether relocation is the best option for all of the chimpanzees. A number of posts here have provided detail about the issue. The main consideration is whether decisions about the transfer of chimpanzees from their current homes to a new home are adequately informed to ensure the best outcome for each animal. Of particular concern is whether there is a process for examining previous outcomes in order to identify whether changes are needed.

The latter is exactly why the deaths of 9 of 13 chimpanzees transferred from the National Center for Chimpanzee Care (Bastrop) to the federally-supported sanctuary, Chimp Haven, continue to raise questions.  The questions are not—as has been repeatedly emphasized—about the quality of care at Chimp Haven. Nor are they about population-level mortality analysis as was conducted and reported in a yet-to-be-reviewed manuscript posted by a scientist at NIH (see below for further discussion). Rather, as would be the case in most facilities that operate under federal license or registration with the USDA,  the question is whether the circumstances surrounding those deaths has been reviewed carefully and thoughtfully in order to inform future practices and decisions in a way that minimizes future risk and ensures the best outcomes for the chimpanzees. For example, it would be logical to ask whether the circumstances surrounding the deaths were examined by the USDA, or whether NIH commissioned, or requested, any evaluation of the deaths. This would be common procedure in any facility subject to USDA oversight.

Chimpanzees in research, zoo, and sanctuary facilities

Chimpanzees in research, zoo, and sanctuary facilities

Consideration of decisions about relocation goes far beyond these nine deaths, however. There are a number of factors that inform concerns about the plan to transfer chimpanzees from their current homes. Among them: 1) the animals’ age and health; 2) the consequences of relocation, including disruption of existing social groups and separation from long-time environments and caregivers, introduction into novel environments, with novel caregivers, and chimpanzees; 3) the time-span over which the transfers will occur.

All of these factors underlie questions about the end result of the recently announced plan to move all NIH-owned and supported chimpanzees to Chimp Haven over the next 10 years. As summarized by a commenter on our previous post:

“I have read with bewilderment the recent NIH announcement about their plan to retire the remaining chimpanzees housed at Alamogordo, Bastrop and Southwest Foundation and the press release from HSUS applauding the plan and their appreciation of all the effort by Dr. Collins and NIH have made to implement the plan. Why should anyone be excited about this plan? From what I read, their plan is attrition. For presumably the next 10 years, NIH is going to watch and monitor the chimpanzee mortality rate at Chimp Haven and fill the vacancies with chimpanzees currently residing at APF, Bastrop and then Southwest (the NIH preferred order). How can attrition and replacement be considered a reasonable and humane retirement plan by either the research community or animal welfare advocates?”

2) Research: Should federally-supported retired research chimpanzees within sanctuaries be involved in research? 

The announcement of a partnership with the Lincoln Park Zoo, funded by a private agency (Arcus Foundation), apparently part of broader effort to promote research with chimpanzees at the federally-funded retirement facility raised a host of questions. On the one hand is the obvious question about why chimpanzees retired from research should be the source of fundraising in order to conduct research (see here). The very definition of sanctuary and what differentiates a sanctuary from a zoo or a research facility was also raised by the announcement (see here).


Photo credit: Kathy West

There are many who do support ongoing behavioral, psychological, cognitive, genomic, neural and other noninvasive research. This is the very same conclusion that was reached by the Institute of Medicine committee that reviewed the necessity of chimpanzee research (see report here). But the announcement of a research program at Chimp Haven raised many questions about how the research conducted there now, and in the future, will be overseen. For example, in contrast to well-established and transparent practices for decisions about NIH, NSF, or other federally-funded research, there appears to be little public information about the process for research approval and conduct of research at Chimp Haven.

The broad questions surrounding research at Chimp Haven are whether information about the review, oversight, and transparency of research projects is available and where it can be found. Moreover, the announcement that the sanctuary intends to recruit scientists and more research raises questions about whether there should be further consideration and open dialogue about whether the processes put into place by the private facility are appropriate for research conducted with animals who receive 75% of their support from federal sources.

Questions include: What is the process for deciding whether, and which, research projects are conducted with federally-supported chimpanzees within the sanctuary? What are the mechanisms for external oversight, transparency, and ethics review of the research proposals? How are perceived and actual conflicts of interests handled? The answer to these questions at present appears to be that Chimp Haven has a review board that operates as an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) for the facility. In general though, there is not enough information about process to inform serious and thoughtful consideration. For example, among other questions, it is not clear that the facility has a scientific merit review or a mechanism to guard against conflicts of interests or to promote equitable access.

3)  Decisions and evidence: What is the process for decision-making?  How are conflicts of interests handled?  What kind of evidence supports the decisions about chimpanzee health and well-being?

A third set of questions that have become of increasing concern as events, decisions, and announcements about chimpanzee retirement unfold surround processes for decision-making. Again, the issue here is about unanswered questions in response to community concern and public interest. The two previous points highlight a number of questions rooted in “process.” Most recently, the issue of what kinds of evidence should be used to inform decision-making was put into sharp relief by the appearance of an analysis of chimpanzee mortality across dedicated research centers and the federal sanctuary. That report was posted online, ahead of peer-review or publication in a scientific journal, and the day before NIH’s announcement that all NIH-owned chimpanzees would move to Chimp Haven over a 10-year period.


Photo credit: Kathy West

While it may not be entirely clear to those outside the scientific community, the online article had not been subjected to review – either via comments online, in an open-access venue, or by expert peer-review. Peer-review  is normally conducted by scientific journals and is part of online publication as well.  Peer review is an important part of the scientific process. In brief, the purpose of such review is to identify potential flaws in the study design, analysis, or interpretation of the data. The process of review then requires the author to address criticisms. In some cases, the criticisms are rebutted and the paper improved by clarifications. In other cases, the criticisms cannot be rebutted because the study, analysis, or interpretation is flawed.

What is important to remember is simple. Confidence in the conclusions of a study, particularly one for which criticisms have been raised and not yet addressed, should be measured accordingly. Yet, already the conclusions of this article have been cited as “proof” for a position about relocating chimpanzees. For example, in a posting from the Jane Goodall Institute:

“As animal transfers are sometimes considered potentially harmful, it is satisfying to note it was found that there is no proven link between relocation and premature death of captive chimpanzees.

In fact, the article cited does not substantively address the claim. Rather, as chimpanzee research expert, Professor William Hopkins, points out, “the analyses performed in the study are not designed to test for a “link” between relocation and premature death. As others have noted, this would require an analysis of the mortality rate of chimpanzees transferred to Chimp Haven be compared with age-sex matched apes that are not transferred. These kinds of comparisons that are necessary to make these inferences are absent in the paper as it is currently written.”

Thus, not only do a number of questions and criticisms of the article remain unanswered, but it is also true that the mortality analysis does not address the fundamental point for which it is being cited as supporting. What the analysis does appear to show is that many – perhaps most—of the retired chimpanzees are likely to die before they are transferred. From data presented in Figure 4 of the paper, it appears that roughly 20% of the chimpanzee population would be predicted to die within 3 years and that less than 40% will be alive in 9 years. By extension, of the animals who are now slated to move within the 10 year period announced by NIH, it could be the case that only 30% will be alive at that point. Again, however, conclusions based on this analysis should be viewed with caution. Nonetheless, if this interpretation were true then it would seem that the majority of chimpanzees will, in fact, remain in their current homes for a substantial amount of time. In turn, several considerations and new discussions of alternatives might be raised– as they were in comments that we will return to in a subsequent post.


Chimpanzees at NCCC. Photo credit: Kathy West.

Furthermore, the NIH plan and discussion surrounding it has yet to reveal how the mortality analysis will inform decisions at the level of the individual chimpanzee. Given that age is nearly certain to be the biggest mortality predictor, the question is whether the oldest animals will be the least or the most likely to move first? In the NIH plan, age is ranked ahead of existing social group as a consideration for priority in relocation to sanctuary. The question there is – given social groups are generally comprised of animals of mixed ages—will groups be prioritized for movement based on the age and health of the oldest members?

Decisions about the priority order for moving chimpanzees are undoubtedly incredibly difficult and must account for complicated sets of factors. Whether there should be transparency in those decisions, at the level of the individual animals, is one of the main questions that arose in discussion of the deaths of 9 NCCC chimpanzees transferred to the federally-funded sanctuary. It arose for the simple reason that Chimp Haven’s CEO, in defending her facility, raised pointed questions about the decision to transfer particular animals. She claimed:

“…the selection of the individuals to be transferred was not made by Chimp Haven, or even The National Institutes of Health, but by the laboratory itself.  In fact, Chimp Haven has never had a say in selecting any individuals for retirement despite the fact that we have advocated for such a role to ensure that these retirement transfers were best planned and operated. So one might reasonably question why several of the transferred chimpanzees were placed on “quality of life” watch prior to transfer. Or why most of the transferred chimpanzees were well beyond the median life expectancy for the species.”

Whether this is true or not cannot be easily – if at all– discerned by the public. Why? Because the process of decision-making is mostly not transparent in public view. As a result, competing claims cannot be fully evaluated with any serious, thoughtful consideration by members of the public, nor by the media, policy-makers, or members of the research, sanctuary, and zoo communities. Nor does it appear that there is any mechanism for unanswered questions to be addressed. There are many things that are troubling about the situation. From the perspective of dialogue and community efforts to guide decisions in the best interests of the animals’ health and well-being, research, and public support, the continuing lack of response to questions or perceived criticism is among the largest of the obstacles to progress and understanding.


Photo credit: Kathy West

Summary.  One of the goals of Speaking of Research is to provide a place for public dialogue about ongoing events, perspectives, and consideration of animal research. We hope that the questions posed above might help move the dialogue forward with answers to questions that remain unaddressed and information that can fill gaps in public knowledge. In turn, the answers may help provide a better understanding of the situation and a more thoughtful, broad public consideration of the future for retired chimpanzees and for chimpanzee research.

Speaking of Research

Zoo-Sanctuary Partnership: Lincoln Park Zoo and Federally-funded Retired Chimpanzee Sanctuary Announce New Research Program

An article titled “Chimpanzee sanctuaries open door to more research: Collaboration aims to beef up science at retirement centers” in Science last Thursday (David Grimm, 7/28/16) was a surprising turn for some attending to the ongoing events and debates about chimpanzees in the US. The article highlights an announcement by Chimp Haven (CH). CH is a sanctuary federally funded to provide care for federally-owned chimpanzees retired from research. The announcement revealed a new program to fund research with the sanctuary chimpanzees. [We wrote earlier about the concerns raised by deaths of chimpanzees at the sanctuary (“Do Politics Trump Chimpanzee Well-Being? Questions Raised About Deaths of US Research Chimpanzees at Federally-funded Sanctuary”).]

The new research program, part of a partnership with one of Chicago’s zoos, received a $350,000 grant from a private organization, the Arcus Foundation.


Photo credit: Kathy West

The partnership was engineered by Dr. Stephen Ross, an animal behaviorist who is both the chair of the Chimp Haven board and the Director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, at Lincoln Park Zoo’s (LPZ) Regenstein Center for African Apes, as well as the Chair of the chimpanzee Species Survival Plan, a group whose primary role is population management, coordinating breeding plans and movement of chimpanzees between the 34 member zoos in the US.

As we’ve noted previously, Ross was also a member of the NIH Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research that NIH charged in 2012 “to provide advice on implementing recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in its 2011 report, Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research:  Assessing the Necessity.” The conclusions of the working group were associated with phasing out 22 of 30 NIH-funded research projects and with decisions to move chimpanzees to the federal sanctuary. As reported in 2013 by Science: “The working group concluded in January 2013 that many of NIH’s 30 projects involving chimpanzee research or support should end. …NIH officials said that 310 research chimpanzees will move to the national sanctuary at Chimp Haven, in Keithville, Louisiana, or other sanctuaries over the next few years. … NIH is also working with Congress to lift a $30 million cap imposed in 2000 in spending on the national sanctuary that the agency will reach in the next few months” (Kaiser, 6/26/13).

According to the Chimp Haven site:  “After service on the board from 2009-2012, he [Ross] was re-elected in 2013 and in 2014, stepping into the role of board chair.” The NIH Working Group (WG) was assembled and charged in February 2012  and gave its final report nearly a year later, in January 2013. The membership roster lists Ross’ affiliation as Lincoln Park Zoo.

The new funding of the zoo-sanctuary partnership that was recently announced appears to be aimed at an expansion of behavioral and observational research at Chimp Haven. The future plans appear to go beyond ongoing studies of aspects of animal husbandry and care however, as is indicated in comments by Ross and by the director of the sanctuary, Cathy Spraetz.

“Ross would like to eventually move on to more substantive studies of behavior and cognition at the sanctuary. That could include giving the animals touchscreens and puzzles to play with. Spraetz is open to such experiments, as long as they don’t interfere with the animals’ normal lives.”

“Some biomedical studies may even be possible. Chimp Haven’s president, Cathy Spraetz, says the sanctuary would consider sharing blood and other tissues collected during routine procedures with outside scientists. It has also agreed to donate the brains of deceased animals.”

What is particularly surprising about the article and accompanying comments are those concerning the sanctuary’s desire to recruit scientists (and their research funding) in order to expand the sanctuary’s research capacity.

“And if Chimp Haven truly wants to beef up its research program, it will need to find more money. The National Institutes of Health owns most of the chimpanzees here and pays for their care, but it doesn’t fund research on them. So the collaboration will have to expand its reliance on donors and private foundations. [Steve] Ross also hopes that scientists who have lost their lab chimps will come to sanctuaries to continue their work—and bring their own money.

It appears that Ross’ hope refers to those NIH-funded researchers who lost their funding for peer-reviewed scientific studies as a result of the series of decisions made on the basis of recommendations from a group of which Ross was part, the NIH Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research.

It is also true that the decisions and events over the past five years have resulted in movement of chimpanzees from dedicated research facilities to various sanctuaries and at least one zoo (for review see Bennett & Panicker, 2016). In turn, the recommendations, decisions, and events—including movement of animals to Chimp Haven—have created researchers “who have lost their lab chimps.” Perhaps it is these scientists that others hope to entice to either zoos or sanctuaries in order to pursue studies of chimpanzees.

What is not clear is how Chimp Haven will create an equivalent setting that permits these scientists to conduct research that merits support.

LPZ announcment website LPS CH partnership

LPZ announcement. http://www.lpzoo.org/

What kind of research will Chimp Haven perform?

The current research discussed in Thursday’s Science article about the new sanctuary-zoo partnership addresses not only questions relevant to animal care in a sanctuary setting, but also leverages the larger Chimp Haven population to answer questions relevant to animal care in zoo settings. For example, a current postdoctoral research fellow supported by the LPZ partnership is examining the effect of human visitors viewing the chimpanzees during the opportunities Chimp Haven offers for the public to visit and watch the animals.

It may seem odd that a sanctuary—a place whose justification and primary goal is to provide chimpanzees with care—has a need to evaluate the effect of visitors on the animals’ welfare. However, although the sanctuary is not open to all members of the public on a daily basis, it does appear to have extensive public visitation and education programs that presumably results in a need to evaluate the effect of visitors on the animals. For example, among the public events are:  monthly “Discovery Days”, K-12 student visits, Scout programs, and a summer camp for children. Not surprisingly, given that the facility is required to raise 25% of the funds needed to care for the chimpanzees (federal funds cover only 75% of care costs for retired NIH chimpanzees) there are also donor events. For instance, Chimp Haven’s website advertises:

“After Chimpanzee Discovery Days as well as during some school breaks, pre-registered and pre-paid visitors are invited to Chimp Chat & Chew, a program that enables guests to get a more intimate look at the chimpanzees and personal access to Chimp Haven staff. Guests receive a behind-the-scenes tour, an informative presentation by one of our professional staff, a catered lunch, and an up-close-and-personal look at our residents.”

It is also clear that Chimp Haven provides animal resources and research opportunities that benefit zoo researchers and zoos. Primary among them, the number of chimpanzees at the sanctuary (204) far exceeds any single zoo population. By contrast, Lincoln Park Zoo, located in in urban Chicago, houses 11 chimpanzees (Project ChimpCare, 2016).

lpz snapshotThus, the sanctuary offers a resource that zoos cannot for studies that are adequately powered to test scientific hypotheses. Furthermore, while researchers in zoo settings must contend with operating conditions that surround the zoo’s need to attract visitors, as well as the visitors themselves, researchers in a sanctuary appear to have relative freedom from many constraints. In addition, given that NIH and federal sources provide millions of dollars in funding to support the animals’ care, the cost to do research could be much lower than in other settings that require fees and per day costs in order to conduct any type of research with the animals. Finally, it is unclear what the review process is for research at the sanctuary and how it compares to the review process for research proposals to NIH, with each receiving multiple levels of expert scientific peer review in a highly competitive process.

where us chimpanzees live 07.13.16

Illustrated distribution of chimpanzees in the US. Sanctuaries and research facilities have breeding bans. Thus, when coupled with the age of the current chimpanzee population, the overwhelming majority of chimpanzees in sanctuaries and retired from research will be gone within a couple of decades. Those animals held and bred by zoos would then comprise the great majority of captive US chimpanzees.

Should sanctuaries also be research centers?

It is no surprise that many within the scientific community agree with those who believe that research with chimpanzees should continue. Scientists, along with others, have written about the ongoing need and value of continuing research with chimpanzees (Bennett, Beran, Brosnan, Hopkins, Menzel, & Washburn, 2015; Bennett, 2015; Bennett & Panicker, 2016; Latzman & Hopkins, 2016). As with all research, scientific objectives should be balanced with consideration of animal health and well-being. This consideration is not unique to research with chimpanzees. It is foundational to the US system of ethical review and conduct of nonhuman animal research and occurs at many levels, including the scientific review of proposals for research, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) review and monitoring of research, and external oversight by federal agencies.

Whether chimpanzee research is justified and valuable is one question. It is, however, a different question than whether research should be conducted with chimpanzees retired by NIH from research and transferred to a sanctuary designated with the sole purpose of providing the animals with lifetime care. Retiring the animals to sanctuaries, or moving them to zoos, is the same path taken by other countries that ended biomedical research with apes. Moving the animals to sanctuaries is often viewed as an action needed to address a significant part of public moral responsibility to captive apes. Thus, for some, sanctuaries are defined as places in which the animals’ lives are managed with as minimal intrusion by humans as is possible without compromising the animals’ care.


Photo credit: Kathy West

Furthermore, for some, the very meaning of sanctuary is assumed to preclude the use of the animals as instruments to obtain goals—including their use in research, but also in ways that appear to be exploitative of the animals in the interest of fund-raising, or to serve human needs for entertainment or education. It may have been with this in mind that Molly Polidoroff, Executive Director of Save the Chimps, the largest chimpanzee sanctuary in the US and one entirely reliant on private donations, expressed reservations about performing research with animals living in the sanctuary.

As quoted in the Science article about Chimp Haven’s new partnership with Lincoln Park Zoo, Save the Chimp’s Polidoroff said:  “We don’t test hypotheses with our chimps.”

Whether other sanctuaries will follow the lead of the Chimp Haven and Lincoln Park Zoo remains to be seen. Of course whether Chimp Haven is truly open and welcoming to the range of research that is allowable in the federal sanctuary system also remains to be seen.

Speaking of Research

Update: h/t to a reader who shared this upcoming conference presentation at the joint meeting of the American Society of Primatologists and International Society of Primatologists, hosted at Lincoln Park Zoo. The abstract provides further detail about the sanctuary’s research program and rationale.



C. Willis Spraetz1,2, K. Taylor1,2 and A. Fultz1,2
113600 Chimpanzee Place, Keithville, LA 71047, USA, 2Chimp Haven, Inc.
     The retirement of all federally owned chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) from biomedical research and their recent reclassification from threatened to endangered status have led to concerns about the future of behavioral research on the species. Chimp Haven, which serves as the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary, provides options for researchers hoping to continue non-invasive behavioral research. Chimp Haven is the only sanctuary bound by the Standards of Care for Chimpanzees which are federal law. These laws cover the types of studies that may be conducted at the sanctuary and designate the members of our Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. Since 2005, 20 protocols have passed through the committee, with an 80 percent approval rate. We currently have 4 active and 2 proposed protocols, and 8 biomaterials distribution agreements. With recent decisions ensuring the retirement of additional chimpanzees, sanctuaries may provide an optimal place for behavioral research with the potential for large sample sizes, a variety of enclosures, and on-site support. A future goal for the sanctuary community is to become self-sustaining. In order to do this, sanctuaries must explore different options including fees for researchers and visiting scientists who hope to continue to study the chimpanzees. This type of collaboration will become more important in the future to ensure that we learn all we can about the animals in our care.

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



# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11

NCRR cost*,

NCRR cost,





















Research Reserve


# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11

NCRR cost*,

NCRR cost,





Federal Sanctuary


# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11

NCRR cost*,

NCRR cost,





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

Guest post: Efforts to ban chimpanzee research are misguided.

The status and future of chimpanzee research in the US are at the heart of much discussion lately in both scientific and public spheres.  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.  We have asked a number of primatologists involved in chimpanzee research, care and management to contribute to this discussion and begin a series on the issue here, with a guest post from Joseph M. Erwin, Ph.D. (UC Davis, 1974). 




Efforts to ban chimpanzee research are misguided.

The author is a semi-retired consulting primatologist, whose career included service as a zoological curator, journal editor, university lecturer, and research associate at two major primate research centers. His most recent full-time position was as a VP and Division Director for an NIH research contract company, where he developed and implemented a program of environmental enrichment for nonhuman primates, designed innovative facilities, and engaged in research projects on aging in great apes and conservation biology field studies of primate populations in Indonesia. He has held university appointments in psychology, anthropology, child development, physiology, behavioral biology, and pathobiology, including affiliations in schools of human and veterinary medicine, as well as arts and sciences. He is currently a research professor of anthropology at George Washington University, Washington, D.C.  These comments were prompted by the continuing effort to ban scientific research involving chimpanzees. These are the opinions of the author and are not represented as policies or perspectives of any of his current or former clients or any organization with which he is affiliated. 

Dr. Joseph Erwin

You may not want to read this essay if you believe it is morally repugnant and unacceptable to involve human subjects in any kind of biomedical or behavioral research or clinical trials. If you do not believe that humans are animals and chimpanzees are our nearest biological kin, well, maybe these thoughts will not appeal to you. If, however, you recognize that humans have some obligation to discover and apply knowledge that can benefit our own and other species, you might want to read on.

Chimpanzees, like humans and other animals, deserve respect and due consideration. “Due consideration” implies that better decisions can be made if they are based on knowledge and understanding than on ignorance. The more we study chimpanzees (and humans), the better we can understand them, and the more likely our decisions are to benefit their health, well-being, and conservation, and the less likely we are to perform risky, harmful, or inhumane procedures. The current quality of care, refinement of procedures, and dramatic improvement in zoological and research facilities, all testify to the fact that scientific studies of chimpanzees in nature and captivity have changed the way we think about chimpanzees and how we can appropriately and humanely learn from them.

The continuing campaign to ban invasive research involving chimpanzees relies heavily on stories about chimpanzees who were treated in ways none of us would currently condone. Even in the exaggerated tone with which these stories are told, there is some truth. During the fifties, sixties, and even to some extent in the seventies and eighties, some chimpanzees were kept under very restrictive conditions and were subjected to tests and procedures that are no longer considered humane or acceptable and have been discarded.

By about thirty years ago, things had begun to change. Environments became less restrictive. The critical value of maternal rearing and social grouping was recognized. Scientists and facility managers began to insist on improved physical facilities. The value of information obtained noninvasively became clearer, including acceptance of the important role of behavioral monitoring and training to cooperate with caregivers, in contrast to the coercive methods that were previously thought to be essential.

But, the drum beat continues to ban “invasive” research involving chimpanzees, with claims that scientists in research facilities continually and routinely “torture” and “abuse” chimpanzees. “Invasive” has a nasty sound to it, and most of us would not approve of what is implied by the term. That serves those who use the term deceptively very well. First, they equate “invasive” with “torture,” “abuse,” and “vivisection.” Then they formally define the term in ways that would prohibit procedures we currently welcome for ourselves and our loved ones. The proposed research ban would criminalize procedures of which well-informed people of good conscience would certainly approve. The implications are far reaching, and they are not in the best interests of either humans or chimpanzees.

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.

The proposed legislation to ban chimpanzee involvement in research is fundamentally dishonest. It claims to provide an improved quality of life for chimpanzees, without providing any verifiable assurance that it would actually do so. It also claims that the legislation would result in cost-savings for taxpayers. How would money be saved? Perhaps by provision of facilities that are less expensive because they are less secure or do not meet the standards required of zoos and universities; possibly by using well-meaning unpaid volunteers, rather than professionally qualified care and veterinary staff; and maybe by ensuring that scientific grant funding from government sources could not be used for any kind of research (no matter how humanely conducted). Elimination of public research grant funds is a major aspect of the proposed cost savings. The authors of the legislation are surely aware that the public will continue to be financially responsible for the long-term care of chimpanzees owned by the government, whether the chimpanzees are involved in productive research or not. Further, when well-meant sanctuaries financially fail, as some are sure to do (consider the examples fromEurope), US taxpayers will be on the hook to care for the chimpanzees. Neither humans nor chimpanzees would benefit from the restrictions imposed by this kind of excessive regulation that will not live up to its claims.

We continue to have much to learn from the careful and humane scientific study of humans and great apes, including chimpanzees. Noninvasive research (more accurately defined as the sorts of procedures that are ethically acceptable for human subjects and are based on due consideration of chimpanzee and human differences) can provide much mutually beneficial information on aging and life span development, genomic influences on health and behavior, best healthcare practices, preventive medicine, and the cognitive and emotional characteristics humans share with our sibling species. Do care about chimpanzees and work hard to ensure that they are well cared for. Don’t fall for legislation that is anti-science, anti-research, and ultimately harmful to humans and chimpanzees.

Joseph M. Erwin

Facts must inform discussion of future of chimpanzee research

The future of behavioral and biomedical research with chimpanzees is the focus of current discussion by a committee convened by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) at the request of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.  The second public meeting of the IOM convened Wednesday and Thursday. The meeting includes both experts on a broad range of topics that are investigated with chimpanzee studies, as well as members of the public, conservation, animal welfare and animal rights groups. The agenda and speaker list can be viewed here.

The charge of the committee is described as follows:

Specifically, the committee will review the current use of chimpanzees for biomedical and behavioral research and:

  • Explore contemporary and anticipated biomedical research questions to determine if chimpanzees are or will be necessary for research discoveries and to determine the safety and efficacy of new prevention or treatment strategies. If biomedical research questions are identified:
  • Describe the unique biological/immunological characteristics of the chimpanzee that make it the necessary animal model for use in the types of research.
  • Provide recommendations for any new or revised scientific parameters to guide how and when to use these animals for research.
  • Explore contemporary and anticipated behavioral research questions to determine if chimpanzees are necessary for progress in understanding social, neurological and behavioral factors that influence the development, prevention, or treatment of disease.”

The IOM Committee and public meetings represent the kind of serious, thorough, and fact-based discussion that is essential to inform public decisions about animal research.

In striking contrast to this reasoned approach, however, was the emotional New York Times opinion piece from Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) that appeared on the opening day of the IOM’s latest meeting. Bartlett is a co-sponsor of legislation that would end much of the chimpanzee research in the United States, including studies like the recent tests of an Ebola virus vaccine intended to protect wild chimpanzees, and that proposes to move all chimpanzees to federally-subsidized sanctuaries.

Bartlett’s op-ed opens with an anecdote about his experience with primate research in the 1960’s and his more recent conclusion that such research is no longer necessary because:

“… many new techniques are cheaper, faster and more effective, including computer modeling and the testing of very small doses on human volunteers. In vitro methods now grow human cells and tissues for human biomedical studies, bypassing the need for whole animals.”

Bartlett makes this assertion as though it were undisputed, whereas the reality is that the overwhelming majority of biomedical scientists, leading scientific organizations, and medical charities recognize that animal studies are crucial to current and future advances in medicine. In vitro and other research methods are nowhere near capable of replacing the use of animals in many areas of research, indeed our science news blog contains many examples of how animal research is helping to push the boundaries of scientific knowledge and medicine in emerging fields including tissue engineering, gene therapy, stem cell medicine, nanotech smart drugs and personalized medicine. In fact, the purpose of the IOM committee and hearings is to review evidence from a large number of experts with knowledge of the current state of knowledge and needs of the field. Bartlett does not have this expertise and it is unclear why he would make such an ill-informed statement, particularly in a venue like the NYT and particularly in light of the IOM committee meetings.

Furthermore, it is unclear that Bartlett is well-informed about current conditions for chimpanzees in research facilities in the US, or fully aware of the complex issues and challenges inherent in managing chimpanzee populations in either research setting, or the sanctuary settings that he advocates. Although he may have another source of knowledge, those that he references are his own research experience with primates in the NASA space program— which appears to have been prior to the 1966 passage of the Animal Welfare Act, videos, and the recently released movie, Project Nim, about research that took place decades ago.

As evidence of poor treatment of apes, the congressman makes the point that chimpanzees are sometimes darted to deliver anesthesia and “If you’ve seen video of a knockdown, you know it is clearly frightening and stressful.”  In fact, few people—including those working in primate laboratory research settings– would disagree with that statement, just as few would argue that continued efforts to improve management of captive chimpanzee populations are unnecessary. That is why major research facilities that house chimpanzees also have extensive behavioral management, training, and enrichment programs and research personnel who are committed to improving the animals’ welfare.  And included in the accomplishments of behavioral management and research personnel is progress in training animals for cooperative injections (e.g., voluntarily extending an arm to a trainer) in order to reduce stress.

Many people might imagine that the living conditions for chimpanzees in research facilities and sanctuaries are dramatically different. In reality both face similar challenges. For example, Bartlettimplies that things like “knock-downs” only occur at research facilities. In actuality, sanctuaries also require animals to be anesthetized for physical exams and health procedures, also have chimpanzees that are not trained for cooperative injection, and also employ darting. And while the housing conditions for chimpanzees in laboratories vary across facilities, Bartlett’s statement that “… even the mere confinement in laboratory cages deprives chimpanzees of basic physical, social and emotional sustenance” fails to acknowledge the more complex reality. Housing environments for laboratory chimpanzees can also be quite similar to those found in sanctuaries, including large spaces, social groups, complex climbing structures, and varied environmental enrichment.

The future of behavioral and biomedical research with chimpanzees merits serious and sustained discussion that is based in fact, advances in research technologies – ranging from new in vitro techniques, to genetically modified mice, through to studies in humans – mean that it is now time to consider what chimpanzee research is still necessary and ethically justifiable. One of the best avenues for understanding the complex issues that are involved in choices about both continued research and about how to best house and care for chimpanzees lies in listening not only to those who oppose research, but also in hearing from those currently engaged in research, husbandry, and animal welfare efforts within both sanctuary and research facilities.

The content of Representative Bartlett’s op-ed suggests that he may have allowed videos, movies, decades-old experience, and one very biased set of voices to inform his understanding of the current state of great ape research in the US.  If this is the case, we hope that Representative Bartlett listens to the IOM panel discussions and learns more about current conditions, ongoing research, and the full range of challenges involved in decisions about animal research.


Allyson J. Bennett

Defeating diseases of the developing world: tuberculosis and Chikungunya fever

Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers and stomach cancer, may also play a protective role against tuberculosis, according to studies in both humans and monkeys by a team from Stanford University, UC Davis, the University of Pittsburgh and Aga Khan University in Pakistan (1).

Scanning electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, courtesy of the CDC Public Health Image Library

One-third of the world’s population is infected with TB, although most infections are latent and only one in ten progress to active disease.

The presence of H. pylori in the stomach may boost immunity to the TB bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. H. pylori infection is still almost universal in developing countries.

The researchers studied people with latent tuberculosis in California, Pakistan and the Gambia over a two-year period. They found that people who were also infected with H. pylori mounted a stronger immune response against TB and were less likely to advance to clinical tuberculosis than those who were not infected with the stomach bug.

They also carried out complementary studies with cynomolgous macaques at the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis. Like humans, many monkeys naturally carry H. pylori in their stomachs. This study used tissues and samples from monkeys that had already been infected with tuberculosis for other experiments.

Of 41 monkeys, 30 carried H. pylori and only five of these developed active tuberculosis. Six of 11 monkeys that were negative for H. pylori developed tuberculosis. This finding supports the observations made in the human studies and indicates these monkeys are a good experimental model in which further studies can be performed. Already they plan to test whether experimental infection of H. pylori can protect monkeys from TB, and whether it can enhance the protective effect of immunization with current TB vaccines, which are only partially effective.   If these experiments are successful, they will test a genetically modified H. pylori strain developed by Ondek Biologic Delivery Systems that expresses TB antigens as a possible new and more effective vaccine against TB.

A paper describing the results was published Jan. 20 in the open access journal PloS (Public Library of Science) One. The work was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Of course TB is only one of many infectious diseases that scientists wish to prevent, and another report this week shows what can be achieved when you have a good animal model for a disease. You may not have heard of Chikungunya fever, but outbreaks of this mosquito transmitted illness have blighted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Africa and Asia in recent years.

As yet there is no vaccine available, but this week the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) announced an important step towards a vaccine for Chikungunya fever (2).  Scientists at the NIAID Vaccine Research Center developed an experimental vaccine that employs non-infectious virus-like particles and found it to confer complete protection against Chikungunya fever in rhesus macaques. Antibody-containing serum from these monkeys also protected immunodeficient mice against otherwise lethal doses of Chikungunya virus.  Clinical trials to evaluate the safety of this vaccine and its ability to prevent Chikungunya fever in humans are now being planned.


Andy Fell, UC Davis

1) Perry S, de Jong BC, Solnick JV, Sanchez MdlL, Yang S, et al. (2010) Infection with Helicobacter pylori is associated with protection against tuberculosis. PLoS ONE 5(1): e8804. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008804

2) Akahata W., Yang Z.-Y, Andersen H., Sun S. et al. “A virus-like particle vaccine for epidemic Chikungunya virus protects nonhuman primates against infection” Nature Medicine Published online: 28 January 2010 doi:10.1038/nm.2105