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Protestors Are Up In Arms Over Experiments That Give Chimps AIDS

Does the prospect of developing an effective AIDS vaccine justify condemning chimpanzees to death? That's the stark question dividing biomedical researchers in the US, now that virologists know that some strains of HIV cause the same fatal illness in chimps as they do in people.

Already, several chimps have been deliberately infected with HIV strains that can kill them. And the researcher who discovered that chimps can develop AIDS plans to expose up to four more animals to his lethal virus.

These experiments could be the prelude to vaccine experiments involving larger numbers of apes. That prospect has outraged animal welfare campaigners-and many researchers. No scientist would infect a person with HIV deliberately, they point out. Being our closest living relatives, they argue, chimps should be treated with similar respect.

"You can compare a chimp to a mildly retarded child. Just because it's mildly retarded doesn't mean you abuse it," says Alfred Prince, a virologist at the New York Blood Center. Along with 11 other scientists, he has sent a letter to the journal Science raising ethical and scientific objections to the use of lethal HIV strains in chimps. Another of the signatories is primatologist Jane Goodall, famous for her studies of wild chimps in Tanzania.

Chimps are no longer used in research in many countries, including Britain and Australia. But in the US, more than 100 of the apes have been infected with different strains of HIV since the early 1980s. Until recently, it seemed that HIV never causes AIDS in chimps. This meant that chimps fell from favour as an animal model for AIDS research and limited the controversy surrounding the experiments.

But that all changed in 1997, when Frank Novembre of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta reported a single case of HIV causing AIDS in a chimp (Journal of Virology, vol 71, p 4086). Since then, the virus responsible has been deliber
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Contact: Claire Bowles
claire.bowles@rbi.co.uk
44-171-331-2751
New Scientist
17-Feb-1999


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