Based on recommendations from an independent advisory council, the NIH plans to send the chimps into the Federal Sanctuary System, where 150 other chimps already reside.
The 50 remaining chimps will be kept for future selective research but not breeding.
“Americans have benefitted greatly from the chimpanzees’ service to biomedical research, but new scientific methods and technologies have rendered their use in research largely unnecessary," said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH.
“Their likeness to humans has made them uniquely valuable for certain types of research, but also demands greater justification for their use," he said. "After extensive consideration with the expert guidance of many, I am confident that greatly reducing their use in biomedical research is scientifically sound and the right thing to do.”
Dr. Jane Goodall, one of the world's leading experts on chimpanzee conservation, said she was thrilled with the NIH's decision, which came based on a years-long campaign to halt invasive experiments such as subjecting chimps to trial vaccines and treatments for human illnesses.
“I was impressed from the very beginning,” Goodall said of Collins. “He agreed something should be done and went ahead and did it.”
“There are still chimpanzees in private labs,” she said, but the NIH's move is “a very, very important milestone along the way."
The NIH said it would wind down ongoing research and move the chimps under its care to ethologically appropriate facilities as they became available.