January 2010

FASEB Opposes Great Ape Protection Act


For more information

• FASEB’s joint letter to the House of Representatives concerning the Great Ape Protection Act can be found at http://bit.ly/6aPRSc.

• If you would like more information on this legislation and its status, contact Carrie D. Wolinetz at cwolinetz@faseb.org or 301-634-7650.

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology is leading opposition to the Great Ape Protection Act (H.R. 1326), a bill that would end all invasive research on great apes, including chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans and gibbons. (Note: Gibbons are not technically great apes, but they are defined as such in the legislation.)

In a letter sent to all members of the U.S. House of Representatives, FASEB, along with other scientific organizations, patient-advocacy groups and research institutions, expressed concern that the bill would “harm medical research that helps both humans and great apes.” The legislation was reintroduced in the 111th Congress after failing to gain support in the previous Congress and has rapidly gained more than 100 co-sponsors. Passage of the legislation is considered a high priority by a number of animal-rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The joint letter of opposition emphasizes “that the research community is strongly committed to ensuring that the highest quality of humane care is maintained for all animals used in research, that animals are housed and maintained under conditions appropriate to their species and that research involves only the minimum number of animals required to obtain valid results.”

Unfortunately, if the Great Ape Protection Act is passed, it could halt a number of ongoing biomedical research studies, particularly on hepatitis C, for which chimpanzees are currently the only existing animal model. “Chimpanzees are a unique and invaluable resource for ethically conducted biomedical research, particularly translational research through which scientific discoveries are advanced into treatments and cures,” the letter continues. Chimpanzees serve as models in studies investigating malaria, human cytomegalovirus, rotavirus, norovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, prion diseases and monoclonal antibody development, among others. Under the existing research system, chimpanzees no longer used in research are not euthanized; rather, they are humanely maintained in retirement facilities until their natural deaths.

The Great Ape Protection Act has a broad definition of “invasive research,” including “any research that may cause death, bodily injury, pain, distress, fear, injury or trauma.” This includes testing of any drug or other substances, research that would involve restraining, tranquilizing or anesthetizing the animal, removal of the animal from its social group or taking tissue samples, including blood, outside of necessary veterinary care. FASEB is concerned that this broad definition could not only have a negative impact on biomedical research on human diseases but also research that is designed to benefit the great apes themselves, such as the development of an Ebola virus vaccine for wild chimps or the treatment of heart disease in captive gorillas. This also could limit relatively noninvasive work, such as genomic or cell culture studies, which require tissue collection.

In addition to the joint letter, FASEB has been working with its member societies and scientists to educate policymakers about the potential consequences for research under the bill, as well as raising awareness about the multiple legal and regulatory protections that exist for animals used in research, particularly nonhuman primates. The Great Ape Protection Act has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has not held hearings on the subject and is currently quite busy dealing with health-care reform legislation. A companion bill has not yet been introduced in the Senate.

Carrie D. Wolinetz (cwolinetz@faseb.org) is director of scientific affairs and public relations for the Office of Public Affairs at FASEB.

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