Monday, September 30, 2002


Re: "How similar are chimps and humans?": There are two things to note about the recent news on chimpanzees (closure of notorious Coulston Foundation laboratory, and increased genetic difference between chimpanzees and humans).
First, the fact that chimpanzees differ from us genetically and physiologically is the very reason why they make poor models for our diseases. Chimpanzees were hailed as the perfect model for HIV-induced AIDS, but now most researchers admit that this approach has been a complete failure. Like all viruses, HIV is species-specific, adapted to its human host. Only humans get AIDS. Similarly, while chimpanzees infected with hepatitis experience no symptoms, humans die from this disease. Most knowledge of this virus has come through in vitro research, as chimpanzees are not predictive of human immunological response. Still, many of our closest kin are being used in a misguided attempt to develop a vaccine for HCV. As with AIDS vaccines that showed promise in chimpanzees but were ineffective for humans, this research is unlikely to advance human health. Because we differ from chimpanzees biologically, it is fraudulent science to use them as hairy test tubes for our illnesses.
Second, chimpanzees remain similar to us psychologically. They are sentient, self-aware, empathetic, intelligent and social beings, just like us. Chimpanzees form loving bonds with family and friends, and they make war on their enemies. They make and use tools. Wild chimpanzees communicate through vocalizations and gestures, and some captives have been taught to communicate with American Sign Language. Each free-living chimpanzee group has its own culture, which is passed down from one generation to the next. Also like us, they suffer greatly when imprisoned and tortured. An adult chimpanzee, raised in a normal environment, operates on the cognitive level of a small human child. Just as it would be wrong to experiment on a human child, it is wrong to experiment on a chimpanzee.
It is a happy new day for the fewer than 300 chimpanzees who have been retired from the Coulston Foundation to the caring hands of a sanctuary. Let us not forget that more than 1300 chimpanzees remain in the taxpayer-supported biomedical research system, some alone in tiny cages, imprisoned for the crime of having slightly different genes.
Cyn Krueger
Mercer Island, WA
SEEC - Stop Experimentation on & Exploitation of Chimpanzees