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Letters: Ethical research on chimps

June 21, 2013

Re "Plan would protect chimps in captivity," June 12

My truncated quote in this article misrepresents my position on using chimpanzees for research and how listing them as an endangered species will affect this work.

I care deeply about the welfare of captive chimpanzees and do not condone anything being done to a chimp that would be ethically unacceptable for humans. But human and chimp diseases are very different, and we need to understand how and why. So a complete research ban could be damaging to chimps and to their preservation in the wild.

The "genetic research" I have done on chimps used blood samples taken from them during routine medical care and tissues from autopsies following deaths due to natural causes, methods that are ethically acceptable in humans. I am concerned that funding constraints will make it difficult to continue the noninvasive research that has been the least controversial and most beneficial to the species.

The sanctuaries that are taking in captive research chimps do not have proper funding to conduct complete medical follow-ups or to collect tissue samples when chimps die of natural causes, as is the practice in humans.

Ajit Varki

La Jolla

The writer is a professor of medicine and cellular and molecular medicine at UC San Diego.

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