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Government Officials Retire Chimpanzees From Research

One hundred ten chimpanzees will retire from biomedical research, the National Institutes of Health announced today. The move comes as some groups are pushing for a ban on all medical chimp research.

The NIH has been reviewing its chimp research since December. That's when a report from the Institute of Medicine said that there was almost no scientific need for doing biomedical research on chimps.

According to the report, about 1,000 chimps are available for research in the U.S. — roughly half are owned by the government. Now, the NIH says its chimps at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana will be moving. And starting next August, the facility won't receive any more NIH funds.

"This is a significant step in winding down NIH's investment in chimpanzee research based on the way science has evolved and our great sensitivity to the special nature of these remarkable animals, our closest relatives," NIH Director Francis Collins told The Washington Post.

Aaron Martin, communications director at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, which maintains NIRC, says that the facility will continue to house roughly 240 privately owned chimps.

Ten chimps will go to a federally supported sanctuary called Chimp Haven, which will then be at or near full occupancy. The others will go to Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, which has the facilities to care for them — but the chimps will not be used for biomedical studies.

Animal advocacy groups are pleased, to say the least.

"NIH's announcement is a significant step forward in our goal toward ending invasive experiments on chimpanzees and facilitating the move of the current population of chimps in laboratories to reputable sanctuaries," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, in a statement. The HSUS and similar groups are pushing a bill currently before Congress that would gradually phase out invasive chimp research altogether.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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