Chimps get Aids, reply to Pat Fallon
Sun, 9 Mar 1997 17:14:59 -0500 (EST)


Not exactly a Nature article, but suggestive nonetheless. Might I ask, why
are you so into this? I thought Duesberg had a point too, until I started
looking into it. There's a terrific book you should read by a woman AIDS
journalist that kind of blasts all sides of the AIDS debate, she's from
Florida, I can't remember her name, but I'll try to find the reference, the
next time I go to the library.

2/ 4: Twists and Turns in Chimp AIDS Research


It was not easy for scientists to decide to use chimpanzees for AIDS
research back in the 1980s. But as much as they hesitated to give the animals
a fatal disease, researchers believed that they could console themselves with
two thoughts: the chimpanzee would turn out to be a useful model for human
AIDS, and the animals would come down with the disease soon after being
infected, and thus would not suffer long.

Both assumptions turned out to be wrong. Years passed, grants expired and
still the HIV-infected chimps did not come down with AIDS. Researchers
shifted to other animals.

Meanwhile, confined to windowless quarters and attended by caretakers in
biocontainment "spacesuits," the chimps spent year after year living under
conditions that were only supposed to last two or three years. Just last
year, for instance, the Yerkes Regional Primate Center in Atlanta installed
windows in the building where it keeps its HIV-infected chimpanzees.

Now, nearly 13 years after the first infection of a chimp with HIV, one has
died and a few others are sick, apparently from AIDS. Jerom, a 13-year-old
male who was first infected in 1985, died early last year at Yerkes. Another
chimp at Yerkes, a male named Nathan, received a transfusion of Jerom's blood
before the first ape's death.

"We're certainly studying the effects on Nathan on a virological and
immunological basis, and possibly looking at other chimps as well," said Dr.
Frank Noviembre, a biologist who does AIDS research at Yerkes. "It's going to
be interesting to look at what happened to Jerom and what's happening in
Nathan and what possibly is happening in other chimps and try to correlate
that with humans."

HIV isolated from Jerom's blood was introduced into two more chimpanzees
three months ago, one by injection and the other by application to her
cervix. They have shown a steady decline in CD-4 blood cells, the immune
cells that are attacked by the AIDS virus, said Dr. Patricia Fultz, a
professor of microbiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who is
conducting the study. Two more chimps will be infected anally within the
month, Dr. Fultz said. The purpose of the experiment, she said, is to develop
a model of how HIV is acquired through different mucous membranes, which will
be used to test and evaluate the effectiveness of possible vaccines.

Some AIDS researchers are focusing on factors that make the virus more
easily transmitted. For example, a recent paper by Dr. Preston Marx, based on
work done in monkeys at a Westchester County research laboratory owned by New
York University Medical School, suggests that vaginal transmission of the
virus is enhanced by progesterone, a hormone whose synthetic version is used
in birth control pills. Such work on methods of transmission might be another
area in which chimps could prove useful to researchers.

"I think we can use long-term infected animals," Dr. Fultz said.

Not all researchers are convinced that Jerom died of human AIDS, but
"there's a strong possibility that the consensus will shift," said Dr. Marx,
who is director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York. "There
is at least a variant of HIV-1 that is causing an AIDS-like disease in
chimpanzees," Dr. Marx said. "The question becomes, How different is that
strain from the human strain?" The chance that larger numbers of chimpanzees
could once again be used in AIDS research "has emerged," he said, "where a
year ago that possibility did not exist."

The prospect that some or all of the country's 150 to 200 HIV-infected
chimpanzees will come down with AIDS raises a host of ethical questions. How
much care, for example, should an AIDS-inflicted chimp receive? Should the
animal be given AZT or protease inhibitors? At what stage of suffering, if at
all, is euthanasia appropriate? If chimps with AIDS live on for decades, who
will support them?

"It's a problem of economics more than anything," explained Noviembre, who
said that he had not made up his mind about the question of euthanasia.

"If you have these chimps that are not progressing to disease," and another
strain of HIV is available that scientists want to test, Noviembre said, "but
you have no other building, well, should you not do that research because you
won't euthanize the chimps you have?"

He said: "When I first presented some of our results last year at a
conference, I was talking to a guy from Bristol-Myers Squibb, and he said,
you realize you've opened a big can of worms because the NIH is about to say
chimps aren't needed in AIDS research? I said, I know, but what can we do,
really? We're just reporting what we're finding."

Copyright 1997 The New York Times

Steve Edwards