August 21, 2011

An Institute of Medicine committee met this month to debate whether U.S. scientists should continue conducting medical research on chimpanzees [“Advances in research may help spare medical chimps,” front page, Aug. 14]. Those with a financial interest or self-interest in the research tried to argue for continued chimpanzee use, but when pressed by the committee they couldn’t defend their claim that chimpanzees are scientifically necessary.

Ethical and economic issues cannot be divorced from science. It is expensive to warehouse chimpanzees in laboratories and unethical to confine these magnificent, long-lived animals in barren cages.

Congress’s Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, which would end invasive research on chimpanzees and retire government-owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries, would save taxpayers about $30 million annually and provide chimps the peaceful life they deserve. Let’s do right by the chimpanzees, taxpayers and medical research and pass this legislation.

Kathleen Conlee, Washington

The writer is senior director of animal research issues at the Humane Society of the United States.

●The article on using chimpanzees for research noted that the United States is the only developed nation where this approach occurs. However, scientists from countries without chimpanzee research colonies regularly conduct such studies in the United States. In fact, when the Netherlands disbanded its colony, it explicitly cited research in the United States as a safeguard against future need.

Research with chimpanzees is highly regulated. The animals have access to excellent veterinary care and are housed whenever possible in compatible social groups and in an enriched environment.

Many nuances emerged in the discussions with the Institute of Medicine panel. Several experts who said that chimpanzees were no longer a primary research model in their fields nevertheless noted that small-scale chimpanzee studies might still be needed to resolve specific problems, such as providing proof of concept that a new drug or delivery system is likely to work in humans.

While the need may be small, instances remain where no other research model can provide timely answers without undue risk to humans.

Alice Ra’anan and Claire Edwards, Bethesda

The writers work at the American Physiological Society.