Chimp Committee Shakeup Follows Humane Society Complaints

The chair of a committee set up to help the U.S. National Institutes of Health decide whether to continue biomedical and behavioral research with chimpanzees has stepped down. The organizers of the committee--the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council—revealed in an oblique note on 8 June that Chair

John Stobo, who oversees health sciences and services for the University of California (UC) system, "will not be serving on the committee." Stobo did not reply to an inquiry about his departure.

Stobo, who chaired the committee's first meeting on 26 May, is the third scientist who was "provisionally approved" to participate and then removed. (Nature's news blog first reported the committee member changes earlier today.) Although it's unclear why Stobo left, one committee member who asked not to be named told ScienceInsider that IOM said that it "could be viewed" that Stobo had a bias toward animal research because of his UC position.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) complained to IOM President Harvey Fineberg in a 24 May letter that the committee was "significantly imbalanced," noting supposed conflicts of interests of several members. Neither Stobo nor UC was mentioned in the letter, but it did single out the institutions behind the other two members who left the committee. One was Alan Leshner, executive director of AAAS, Science's publisher. The board of AAAS has advocated primate research in the past. The other erstwhile committee member was veterinarian Leticia Medina of Abbott Laboratories, which has used chimpanzees in hepatitis C research.

HSUS is a key proponent of a bill now before the U.S. Congress, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, which would ban "invasive" research of captive chimpanzees.

Christine Stencel, a spokesperson for IOM, says it does not discuss specifics of committee member service. "We have mutually determined that these individuals will not be serving on the committee," said Stencel. "The process is confidential."