In appreciation of chimps who helped advance biomedical research
On Thursday, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said he would follow the advice of the Institute of Medicine and limit the number and types of biomedical research experiments that involve chimpanzees. Ultimately, he said, the number of studies that use the animals would fall from 37 to about 20 or fewer.
Chimpanzees were first recruited for use in biomedical research because they share all but 200,000 of the 3 billion chemical letters that make up humanDNA. They share many traits with humans, including complex social structures, a sense of self-awareness, the ability to love and the ability to feel stress.
But as Melissa Healy explained, “powerful computers, new lab techniques and genetic engineering have steadily reduced the need to use chimpanzees as human stand-ins. Meanwhile, progress in understanding other diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, has underscored that while chimps and humans share much DNA, not all diseases behave the same in Pan troglodytes as they do in Homo sapiens.”
Now, as the NIH and chimpanzees prepare for a new chapter in their relationship, let’s pause to remember some of the chimps who made great contributions to research.