Research options studied
LAFAYETTE — The National Institutes of Health announced plans Friday to relocate 110 of its chimpanzees from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center and to stop using the animals for biomedical testing.
The move comes while NIH, a federal medical research agency, is deciding how best to implement recommendations that call for more stringent standards on biomedical research using chimpanzees, considered the closest relative to humans in the animal kingdom.
NIH in December suspended funding for all new research involving chimpanzees pending the development of new guidelines for research that are expected to limit the use of chimpanzees to studies in which other testing alternatives have been exhausted.
Amid the changes, the New Iberia Research Center has opted to not seek further funding to house to NIH-owned chimpanzees, the university announced on Friday.
The 110 NIH chimpanzees are about 30 percent of the total population of 350 chimpanzees at NIRC, according to figures from the university.
ULL spokesman Aaron Martin said the research center decided to reallocate staff and facilities for other opportunities.
“The University of Louisiana at Lafayette and NIRC remain committed to maintaining an outstanding program of biomedical research,” Martin said in a prepared statement on behalf on the university.
NIH plans to soon begin relocating the 110 primates from New Iberia, a process that is expected to take several months because of the care required in transporting the animals, said NIH spokeswoman Renate Myles.
Ten of the chimpanzees will retire to Chimp Haven, a chimpanzee sanctuary in north Louisiana, and the remaining 100 will be transferred to the Texas Biomedical Institute in San Antonio but will be permanently ineligible for further biomedical research, according to information from NIH.
The changes will leave NIH with a roster of 453 chimpanzees eligible for biomedical research, Myles said.
The agency “anticipates there will be a substantial reduction” in the need for chimpanzee test subjects under the new research guidelines being developed, according to a statement from NIH.
ULL’s primate research center has done private and government medical research for more than 20 years.
The New Iberia center and primate testing facilities in general have come under fire in recent years from animal rights groups, including The Humane Society of the United States.
That group on Friday applauded the decision to retire the 110 chimpanzees in New Iberia from biomedical research.
“NIH’s announcement is a significant step forward in our goal toward ending invasive experiments on chimpanzees and facilitating the move of the current population of chimps in laboratories to reputable sanctuaries,” Humane Society of the United States President Wayne Pacelle said in a statement.
He said the group looks forward “to working with NIH and the Congress to develop a workable plan to move all of the government-owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries in the years ahead.”