Background Chimpanzees have been widely used in hepatitis C virus (HCV) research, but their endangered status and high financial and ethical costs have prompted a closer review.
Methods One hundred and nine articles published in 1998–2007 were analyzed for the number of chimpanzees involved, experimental procedures, objectives and other relevant issues.
Results The articles described the use of 852 chimpanzees, but accounting for likely multiple uses, the number of individual chimpanzees involved here is estimated to be approximately 500. Most articles addressed immunology and inoculation studies. A significant portion of studies lasted for several months or years. Approximately one half of the individual chimpanzees were each used in 2–10 studies.
Conclusions Significant financial and scientific resources have been expended in these chimpanzee HCV studies. Discussion addresses troublesome questions presented by some of the reviewed articles, including statistical validity, repeatability, and biological relevance of this model. These concerns merit attention as future approaches to HCV research and research priorities are considered.