Eyes on Apes | Chimpanzees in Biomedical Research

Chimpanzees in Biomedical Research

  • Chimpanzees actively used in biomedical research are routinely tested on -- undergoing surgeries, infected with deadly viruses, and injected with vaccines. They are very intelligent and suffer from immense psychological distress due to lack of proper socialization, separation from their mothers when infants, and absence of mental stimulation.
  • Chimpanzees warehoused in research facilities may be socially housed and may also be provided enrichment, but at any point they can be torn from their social group and called back into research, suffering through more injections, surgeries, and social isolation. Chimpanzees in laboratories are viewed as a means to an end, not as the intelligent, complex individuals that they are.
  • Evidence has shown that although chimpanzees are indeed genetically very similar to humans, they are a poor research model for many diseases due to basic molecular differences between the two species. For instance, chimpanzees infected with HIV do not acquire AIDS, which makes them a poor medical model for finding an HIV/AIDS vaccine for humans.
  • Since the 1970s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognized captive chimpanzees as a threatened species while their free-living counterparts were endangered. This split-listing made captive chimpanzees exempt to certain protections offered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and it allowed for their use in biomedical research. After years of campaigning for captive chimpanzees to be "up-listed," the USFWS officially recognized all chimpanzees as endangered in September 2015. Chimpanzees now are afforded protections under the ESA.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced in early 2013 recommendations to retire the majority government-owned chimpanzees into the Federal Sanctuary System. After the 2015 up-list, the NIH announced its intention to retire all (not just the majority) of government-owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries.
  • Work is underway to ensure that the nearly 800 chimpanzees still in biomedical research are released to sanctuaries. It is a quickly developing topic so be sure to check our alerts page on how to take action!