Update: Transfer of Alamagordo Chimps on Hold

January 7, 2011
LAS CRUCES — The National Institutes of Health on Tuesday confirmed that 186 chimps slated for a transfer to Texas will remain at an Alamogordo facility until the completion of an in-depth review of the use of the apes in biomedical research.
The news, welcomed by animal rights activists, was announced by the office of former Gov. Bill Richardson last Thursday, but was not confirmed by federal officials in Washington, D.C., until Tuesday. The review could take two years to complete.

In a brief statement, the NIH said the chimps will remain housed at the federally owned Alamogordo Primate Facility on Holloman Air Force Base “pending an Institute of Medicine in-depth analysis to reassess the scientific need for the continued use of chimpanzees to accelerate biomedical discoveries.”

A federal contract to manage the chimps at the Alamogordo site, where they have been free from research for the last decade, is due to expire in May. The NIH had planned to move the apes starting this year to a laboratory in San Antonio, Texas, where they would once again be used as subjects in biomedical research, primarily aimed at finding a vaccine for hepatitis C.

The Washington, D.C.-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has fought against the transfer, has argued that chimpanzees make poor models for researching human diseases and noted that most of the rest of world has abandoned the use of chimps in medical research.

“It’s great news that the government is serious about taking on a serious review, looking at all the options,” said Laura Bonar, program director for Animal Protection of New Mexico, which also opposed the chimp transfer. “We don’t want to waste researchers’ time and money by pursuing archaic methods.”

Along with ethical considerations raised by some opponents of the move, Richardson and Alamogordo officials have also worried about the loss of 35 jobs if the primate facility is mothballed.

New Mexico Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, along with Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, jointly wrote the NIH director and the National Academy of Sciences president on Dec. 15 requesting the scientific review.

In the letter to the NIH director Francis Collins, the senators wrote: “Considering the great progress the scientific community has made in research techniques, we believe the time has come for an in-depth analysis of the current and future need for chimpanzee use in biomedical research.”

The senators said they expected a report to be completed in 18 months and asked that the findings be used to establish “future policy on invasive chimpanzee research.”

Visit the Web site of Arcus grantee Animal Protection of New Mexico for further updates and information.

Link to the original story and a video on the chimpanzees of Alamagordo in the Arcus Newsroom.