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Time to Retire

Many research chimpanzees in the US are heading toward retirement as the US National Institutes of Health has announced that it will "substantially reduce" the use of chimps in the research it funds.

The announcement yesterday comes after an Institute of Medicine report from the end of 2011 said that because of the emergence of new models and technologies, much of research typically done on chimpanzees was no longer necessary. At the time, NIH Director Francis Collins said that he was inclined to follow the recommendations of the IOM report. Indeed, an NIH working group recommended earlier this year that the agency retire and transfer the majority of chimpanzees it owns to sanctuaries, and a 60-day comment period followed that recommendation. In addition, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has moved to label all chimps, not just wild ones, as endangered.

While most — about 310, according to the Associated Press — chimps are now going to be retired, NIH says it will retain, though not breed, a small 50-chimp colony for certain biomedical research studies that meet criteria set by the IOM report. The decision for that reserve colony will be revisited every five years.

"Chimpanzees are very special animals. They are our closest relatives," Collins said at a press conference, according to Wired. "We believe they deserve special consideration.

ScienceInsider adds that the working group examined the approximately 30 NIH projects involving chimps, and it concluded that 22 of them should likely end, and they will "wind down in a way that preserves the research," according to Collins. Among those appear to meet the criteria to continue are a handful of studies on behavior, immunology, hepatitis C, and genomics.