Why chimps are crucial to disease research

Monday, March 7, 2011; 8:11 PM

It is imperative that chimpanzees continue to be available for research critical to the discovery of treatments for human and animal diseases ["Active physicians petition NIH to return chimps to N.M.," news story, March 2].

Chimpanzee research models have led to major medical advances, including the vaccines for hepatitis A and B, which have significantly reduced the frequency of infection in the United States. Additionally, chimps remain an important model in medical research, as they are the only animals suitable in the study of hepatitis C, which kills approximately 12,000 Americans every year, and are critical in testing the efficacy of monoclonal antibodies used to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Furthermore, this year the first studies were conducted on laboratory chimpanzees to test the safety of a potential vaccine against ebola. Such a vaccine could be used to protect endangered wild chimps ravaged by this disease.

Research using non-human primates is highly regulated - as it should be - and their welfare is of the utmost importance to the scientists who use them, both because scientists seek to treat all species humanely and because the validity of their studies depends on providing optimal conditions for their test subjects.

William T. Talman, Iowa City

The writer is president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

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