Scientists, politicians and animal activists are rising up to defend apes.
There are nearly 1000 research chimpanzees in the US – the only country other than Gabon to conduct medical research on chimps. At the behest of the National Institutes of Health and animal rights activists, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is now deciding whether to stop using chimpanzees in research altogether.
Chimps often become socially withdrawn in the lab and are more difficult to care for than other lab animals – but scientists studying hepatitis C say that chimps are vital to their work as the only lab animal susceptible to the virus.
Our closest living relative does not always make the best model for other human diseases, though: rhesus monkeys, for instance, more closely mimic human HIV infections.
Ajit Varki at the University of California, San Diego, who has extensively reviewed the biomedical differences between humans and chimpanzees, concludes that chimpanzees and humans handle diseases differently despite their nearly identical genes and proteins.