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NIH Renews Grant for Bastrop Chimpanzee Facility

NIH Renews Grant for Bastrop Chimpanzee Facility
M. D. Anderson News Release 11/28/00

BASTROP -- The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center's veterinary department based near Bastrop has been awarded a $19.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support its chimpanzee biomedical research program for the next five years.

The grant continues a long history of funding from NIH for the chimpanzee program based at M. D. Anderson's Science Park facility that is also home to the Department of Veterinary Sciences. The department has held a grant or contract from the Center for Research Resources of NIH since 1976.

M. D. Anderson's Science Park is one of only four facilities in the nation that receives funding from NIH to support the National Chimpanzee Biomedical Research Program. The Primate Foundation of Arizona (PFA) is a subcontractor to the M. D. Anderson grant and maintains approximately 70 chimpanzees near Mesa.

"The new grant will allow our department to build new high-quality facilities for chimpanzees maintained in the Biomedical Research Program," said Dr. Michale Keeling, chairman of the Department of Veterinary Sciences. "This grant supports a national animal model resource, requiring us to meet a dual responsibility for making the animal available for very selective research and maintaining the population in a social environment that provides them a high quality of life."

According to Dr. Keeling, the facility spends about $6,000 to $7,000 per year per chimp to feed, house and keep each animal healthy. The Bastrop facility has developed various types of housing but is most noted for the eight large outdoor corrals in which the animals exist in social groups in a semi-natural environment.

The chimps receive comprehensive preventive and medical care that includes dental care, and immunizations for rabies, tetanus and polio. The generation time of the chimpanzee is similar to the human, and animals can live between 40 to 50 years.

Built in 1977, M. D. Anderson's chimp facility currently houses 150 chimpanzees, 35 of which are maintained as a reserve for future research needs. Biomedical investigations currently under way include studies on Hepatitis B and C and HIV. Other investigations include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, vaccine development, aging, cellular immunology and behavior.

Although chimpanzees have a low incidence of cancer, much of their physiology and immunology is very similar to the human and can be applied to numerous disease conditions, said Dr. Keeling.

"About 98.5 percent of the chimp's genetic makeup cannot be differentiated from that of humans," said Dr. Keeling. "The close biological relationships make the chimpanzee an irreplaceable animal model with significant potential for unlocking secrets of human disease and illnesses."

Currently, there is a captive chimpanzee surplus, said Dr. Keeling. For the past 15 years, there has been an emphasis on breeding animals since chimpanzees cannot be imported from the wild. The breeding program was so successful at the M. D. Anderson facility that it now has a moratorium on breeding, thus the new grant will emphasize biomedical research, he continued. All the breeding females in the Bastrop program are on the reversible contraceptive, Norplant.

Despite the chimpanzee surplus, Dr. Keeling points out that great care must be taken when selecting and using chimpanzees for research.

"Chimpanzees can be used only for the more sophisticated stages of investigation that will generate important biomedical information and not unnecessarily debilitate or risk the chimpanzee's life. We are obligated to provide the chimpanzees a high quality of life after their research contributions because they make significant contributions to improving human health and welfare," said Dr. Keeling.

Efforts to insure a high quality of life for chimpanzees in captivity begin with each chimp's birth. Infants are raised by their mothers in social groups for up to two years. The animals can then be used in research and, upon approaching sexual maturity, can be resocialized into a breeding group for future propagation. Animals that have not been used in infectious disease research usually live in breeding groups after their research careers.


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