Fighting for a chance against AIDS.Jeff Getty was living on borrowed time when he took part in a radical experiment last December.
"I'm a soldier fighting a war," Getty told Science World. His enemy: AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
A viral disease of humans caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which attacks and compromises the body's immune system. ), the fatal disease caused by HIV HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), either of two closely related retroviruses that invade T-helper lymphocytes and are responsible for AIDS. There are two types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is responsible for the vast majority of AIDS in the United States. (Human Immunodeficiency Virus human immunodeficiency virus
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
A transmissible retrovirus that causes AIDS in humans. ). The virus attacks and destroys the body's disease-fighting white blood cells White blood cells
A group of several cell types that occur in the bloodstream and are essential for a properly functioning immune system.
Mentioned in: Abscess Incision & Drainage, Bone Marrow Transplantation, Complement Deficiencies , leaving the immune system immune system
Cells, cell products, organs, and structures of the body involved in the detection and destruction of foreign invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. Immunity is based on the system's ability to launch a defense against such invaders. deficient, or unable to fend off countless infections and diseases. When patients begin to succumb to these invaders, they are said to have AIDS.
Right now, there is no cure for AIDS. Most patients die of their infections. But Getty - who was first infected 15 years ago and had already lived longer than many people expected - wanted to change that. That's why he volunteered for an experimental treatment: a bone marrow transplant bone marrow transplant: see bone marrow. from a baboon baboon, any of the large, powerful, ground-living monkeys of the genus Papio, also called dog-faced monkeys. Five subspecies live in Africa, with one species extending into the Arabian peninsula. .
The idea behind the experiment was to replenish Getty's depleted de·plete
tr.v. de·plet·ed, de·plet·ing, de·pletes
To decrease the fullness of; use up or empty out.
[Latin d army of white blood cells. Like all blood cells blood cells,
n.pl the formed elements of the blood, including red cells (erythrocytes), white cells (leukocytes), and platelets (thrombocytes).
See erythrocyte and leukocyte. Platelets are classed separately. , white blood cells form in bone marrow, a fatty tissue that fills the hollow spaces inside bones. Ideally, transplanted bone marrow would supply the needed disease-fighting cells.
But using human bone marrow doesn't work very well, says Dr. Suzanne Ildstad, who designed the experiment. Human white blood cells are the very cells the AIDS virus AIDS virus
See HIV. attacks. Giving a patient more white cells doesn't help battle the virus or repair a damaged immune system in the long run.
That's why Dr. Ildstad proposed a transplant using bone marrow from a baboon. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Dr. Ildstad, HIV can't infect baboon cells and baboons don't get AIDS. So baboon-cell reinforcements might help battle HIV and restore Getty's immune system. she reasoned. (By contrast, the drugs currently used to treat AIDS merely slow the rate of immune-system destruction.)
Many scientists have doubts about the effectiveness of such cross-species transplants.
"The chance of it working is so small," says Dr. Mark Feinberg of the Office of AIDS Research at the National Institutes of Health. One potential problem: Getty's immune system might recognize the transplanted baboon cells as "invaders" and try to attack them. This problem, called immune rejection, is common with transplants - even when the donor is human. There was also a chance that the baboon immune cells would identify Getty's body tissues as "foreign" and try to destroy them.
Other scientists had more-dire predictions: The experiment could start an epidemic, or outbreak, of another disease. Getty might pick up a disease from the baboon bone marrow and spread it to other humans, they warned. After all, diseases have "jumped" from animals to humans before. For example, scientists say HIV probably spread to humans from monkeys; swine flu swine flu
A highly contagious form of human influenza caused by a filterable virus identical or related to a virus formerly isolated from infected swine. came from pigs.
"It only takes one transmission from one baboon to a human to start an epidemic," says Dr. Jonathan Allan of the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (SFBR) is a large private research institute located in San Antonio Texas.
With 400 staff and a 397 acre campus, SFBR is "one of the world's leading independent biomedical research institutions. . "We're risking the public health."
But most researchers agreed that if Getty did pick up a disease, chances were that it could only be passed to someone else the way AIDS is - through the exchange of blood or other body fluids. And Getty had been avoiding that kind of contact ever since he found out he was infected with HIV.
In the end, Dr. Ildstad and others managed to convince the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which had to approve the experiment, that no dire consequences would result.
On December 14, 1995, Getty sat nervously in a San Francisco hospital as purified baboon bone marrow cells dripped into one of his veins.
"It was scary," Getty recalled when SW spoke with him in February. Prior to the transplant, he had received radiation treatments and chemotherapy (strong drugs) to suppress his immune system. Those treatments were supposed to reduce his chances of rejecting the transplant. But in his weakened state, Getty would also be less able to fight off any baboon diseases - or baboon immune cells attempting to destroy his body.
"My life, passed before my eyes. while they were putting the bone marrow into me." Getty told SW. "But I didn't have any second thoughts. I wanted to see this thing through."
Eight weeks later, Getty was alive and feeling better than he had in years. His immune system cells had increased in number. His chronic asthma had cleared up. And doctors found no evidence that he had picked up a baboon disease.
But they didn't find any baboon immune cells either. And that means Getty may not have benefited as a result of the transplant.
It could be that Getty's immune system destroyed the baboon cells. Or maybe the baboon cells were there in numbers too low for tests to detect. Dr. Ildstad said it was still too early to say for sure.
Meanwhile, doctors were trying to figure out if something else they did as part of the experiment may have improved Getty's health. Maybe the chemotherapy and radiation treatments they used to suppress Getty's immune system zapped some of the HIV in his body.
Getty said he would be satisfied if any new AIDS information came to light as a result of the experiment. Sometimes when you do unknown things," he said, "you find out things you weren't even expecting to find out." And the more we know, the more likely we'll be to win the war against AIDS.