We’ve discussed this before, but I think it bears repeating. Chimpanzees–because of their genetic similarity to us–still provide a crucial, albeit limited role, in medical research. For example, HIV is thought to have infected humans from chimps. But what kills us, rarely makes them sick. Finding out why is a matter of potentially tremendous life-saving benefit.
But there are other important areas of research in which chimps are required. Monoclonal antibodies have tremendous healing potential that require chimps to adequately test. From “Thanks to an Anonymous Chimp, My Wife is Still Alive,” published in Research Saves by Adrianne Morrison, DMV (no link):
Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma six years ago, she entered remission after injection of a series of debilitating chemicals over several months. But, with the addition of a biological substance known as a monoclonal antibody, the latter greatly enhanced her chances of survival, and chimpanzees were key to development of the antibody. According to John VandeBerg, director of the Southwest National Primate Center, and Stuart Zola, director of the famous Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta “… the need for chimpanzees to test monoclonal-antibody therapies is rapidly increasing as more antibodies are designed …Many of the biological receptors targeted by these antibodies are present only on chimpanzee and human cells.” Hence, I express my gratitude to those chimpanzees.
I wrote about the reason we need chimps for researching monoclonal antibodies in A Rat is a Pig, Etc.:
Chimpanzees are essential to this research because unlike other animals, their immune systems do not attack these genetically engineered antibodies. Consequently, the experimental substance remains in the chimps’ blood for extended periods, permitting researchers to fully evaluate the safety and efficacy of such interventions before commencing human trials.
Back to Morrison:
But chimpanzees are vitally important beyond the production of monoclonal antibodies. VandeBerg says that “every pre-school child in 116 countries receives a vaccine [hepatitis B], first tested in chimpanzees at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (SFBR). Incidence of new infections has dropped 88 percent since the vaccine was introduced in 1982.” That would be enough for me; but let’s not stop there because chimpanzees, used only for research directed at immediately solving serious medical problems, such as developing and testing vaccines against malaria, certain respiratory diseases and HIV, will save other human lives, lives that are – and must be – more important to me as a human being than even chimpanzees.
That is an undeniable tremendous human benefit we received from chimp research, science that saved countless lives and prevented unquantifiable human suffering.
Because of their intelligence and capacity to suffer, I think that the use of chimps in research should be limited to experiments that are very important to human health or thriving, but it must be available to us. Alas, such research is being outlawed in wide swaths of Europe–to potentially devastating human detriment.
Morrison sets out the stakes in the broader animal research debate:
Nevertheless, my choice is clear: we owe primary allegiance to our fellow humans…[T]there are times, many times really, that we have to make a choice between using animals for our benefit or not. Such choices are made every day when we engage in life-saving biomedical research.
And we’ve all benefited tremendously because they do. So have animals, by the way. Think rabies vaccine.