Transfer of 14 Chimpanzees Violates Federal Law, Doctors Say
Legal Petition Seeks Return of New Mexico Primates Unlawfully Moved to Texas Laboratory for Invasive Experiments
WASHINGTON—The National Institutes of Health acted unlawfully when it transferred 14 chimpanzees to a controversial laboratory in San Antonio, Texas, for use in invasive experiments, argues a legal complaint filed March 3 by five Texas doctors and other experts.
The legal complaint says the 14 chimpanzees should be immediately returned to their former home, a nonresearch facility in New Mexico. Moving the chimpanzees was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of agency discretion, and in violation of the federal Administrative Procedure Act, according to the 15 experts filing the petition.
In June and July of 2010, four female and 10 male chimpanzees were transferred to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute (formerly the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research), which houses both a primate center and a biosafety level 4 laboratory. Texas Biomed endorses the use of primates for studies involving bioterrorism agents and other deadly pathogens, including the Ebola virus and anthrax. A few months after the 14 were unlawfully transferred, the 186 chimpanzees remaining at the nonresearch facility in New Mexico were granted a reprieve from transfer and further experimentation.
Many of the 14 chimpanzees are elderly and have been used repeatedly for invasive procedures. Medical records reveal that 29-year-old Rosie was chemically immobilized 99 times by researchers. Thirty-year-old Cammy was intravenously given human feces containing hepatitis A virus. She was also given the human Norwalk virus, a gastrointestinal virus causing vomiting and diarrhea in people, via stomach tube.
“The 14 chimpanzees at Texas Biomed are perilously near the hot zone where bioterrorism agents are studied,” says John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., a Dallas physician and spokesman for the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). “Using hepatitis C-infected chimpanzees for biodefense work or other experiments will not be productive. Decades of experiments have shown that chimpanzees are poor models for human disease research, and these amazingly intelligent animals deserve a peaceful retirement.”
Federal inspection reports show that Texas Biomed has a poor record of animal care, including recent incidents involving primates escaping from their enclosures. The biosafety level 4 laboratory, which conducts research on some of the world’s most deadly pathogens, also has serious security shortfalls, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.
The Institute of Medicine will conduct an in-depth analysis of the use of chimpanzees in experiments, a process that could lead to the United States joining Japan, the United Kingdom, and every other developed nation in ending experiments on these intelligent animals.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.