October 23, 2006
Preserving chimpanzee populations:
a vital resource for medical advancements
BY stephanie mcnicoll
With only about 1,000 chimpanzees available for biomedical and behavioral research and a dwindling population in the wild, Yerkes National Primate Research Center Director Stuart Zola facilitated an international meeting at the center earlier this month to discuss strategies to preserve the population for both species survival and as a vital resource for medical advancements. Experts predict in just a few decades the only remaining chimpanzees will be those in captivity, mainly in the United States, further straining the international research community’s ability to study the animal recognized as the one most closely related to humans.
During the two-day meeting, the chimpanzee-research experts discussed the ever-decreasing numbers of both captive and wild chimpanzees, the need to stabilize the population and the continued role chimpanzees should hold in addressing national health priorities such as HIV/AIDS, monoclonal antibodies, hepatitis C and aging-related conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive decline.
“Due to both their genetic similarities and differences as compared to humans, chimpanzees are a vitally important global resource for biomedical research and the development of therapeutic intervention,” Zola said. “With the availability of the human and chimpanzee genomes, researchers now can study genomic maps to detect genetic changes that make humans more vulnerable to certain diseases. This information will help us advance scientific understanding of human disease and further research to provide improved treatments and prevention.”