In a move that signals the United States is further backing away from medical research with chimpanzees, the National Institutes of Health will retire 110 of its 563 chimps over the next year, director Francis Collins said Friday.
All of the chimps will be moved from a research facility in Louisiana, the New Iberia Research Center, and made permanently ineligible for future research.
"This is a significant step in winding down NIH's investment in chimpanzee research based on the way science has evolved and our great sensitivity to the special nature of these remarkable animals, our closest relatives," Collins said in a phone interview.
Collins said it was important to keep some chimpanzees available for research in the event that a new disease emerges that only infects humans and chimps.
Ten of the chimps will move from New Iberia, part of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, to Chimp Haven, a sanctuary in Keithville, La. The remaining 100 will move to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio but will not be used for research.
"We're very pleased, it's a good number, 110 is a large number to retire," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, which advocates ending all medical research on chimps.
A confluence of forces is pressuring NIH to drastically reduce its population of research chimps. Last December, an influential report from the Institute of Medicine called nearly all medical research with the great apes unnecessary. Collins responded by suspending any new NIH-supported chimp research. And in Congress, a bill to ban all ape research in the United States, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, passed a key hurdle in July when a Senate committee moved the legislation forward.