New AIDS therapy to be tested in Israel

JERUSALEM — Jerusalem doctors have received Health Ministry permission to be the first in the world to try a new AIDS therapy.

The technique will infuse into AIDS patients immunologically active lymphocytes following transplantation of bone-marrow stem cells taken from a healthy sibling's blood.

Professor Shmuel Slavin, whose pioneering donor lymphocyte infusion procedure has already cured dozens of people around the world of leukemia, lymphoma and various non-cancerous genetic diseases, believes it could "turn back the clock" for AIDS patients by reconstituting their immune system with donor-derived, immunologically active lymphocytes.

Then, when the recipient's body is primed not to reject the donor cells, the patient's HIV-1 virus level is attacked with the available drug "cocktails," bringing it down to what the patient had several years before.

Successful reestablishment of the immune system in AIDS patients and those whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV, says Slavin, is likely to increase their resistance against infections that can kill them. Such biological treatment is also "likely to eliminate the cancer of the lymph nodes and possibly other secondary tumors that often result from AIDS victims' weakened immune system," Slavin predicts.

The experimental and very expensive two-step procedure will be performed at Hadassah-University Hospital in Ein Kerem. Although it has been approved by the hospital's Helsinki Committee on Human Experimentation, as well as by ministry officials, no candidates have yet been selected.

Slavin first used a modified version of the procedure 11 years ago on a baby who had been diagnosed with terminal leukemia. The child is still alive and well today.

Slavin said he was optimistic that the technique will help AIDS patients since it has worked so well for patients with cancers and other life-threatening non-malignant — including genetic — diseases.

"It could prove of great benefit to mankind," he said.