October 1, 2017

An estimated 130-150 million people around the globe are living with chronic hepatitis C infection. Thanks to chimpanzees, there is now a one pill per day, 12-week cure that has already improved more than half a million lives.

As a scientific animal model, chimpanzees have played an integral role in advances against this group of deadly viruses. Without the use of these nonhuman primates with their close genetic relationship to people, many of the modern interventions, including a curative regimen for hepatitis C, might not be available today.

In a recent review article published in the ILAR Journal of the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research, Robert Lanford, of the Southwest National Primate Research Center and his co-authors present a wide-ranging, detailed look at how chimpanzee research has positively impacted human health specifically by helping bring about breakthroughs in the treatment of hepatitis.

The National Institutes of Health began chimpanzee breeding in the U.S. in 1960. The NIH has halted all further research using chimpanzee models, and Lanford points out that at research facilities and at Chimp Haven in Louisiana, “the animals are enjoying their retirement.”

In his summary, Lanford writes “entire generations are immune to HAV (hepatitis A) and HBV (hepatitis B) because of vaccines developed in the chimpanzee that are in widespread use globally.” With HBV chronic infection affecting more than 250 million people, he observes that “the loss of the chimpanzee model has stymied development of curative therapies for this infection.” Lanford goes on to suggest the scientific community needs to develop improved mouse models and even a new nonhuman primate model for this disease.

Over time, the article concludes, future generations will look back positively on the impact the chimpanzee animal model has had on human health. Hepatitis will be a disease of the past, much like polio and smallpox are today.

Back to top