Black Medical Community Boosts AIDS Research

Article excerpt

In 1991, when Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, and Dr.

Barbara Justice, learned that an immunologist in

Kenya was achieving near-miraculous results

treating HIV/AIDs patients with a substance called

"kemron," the two African-American physicians

had to see for themselves.

After seeing the work of Dr. Davey Koech,

director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute

and a Harvard graduate, Muhammad (of the

Abundant Life Clinic in Washington, D.C.) and

Justice (of Harlem Hospital) returned to the United

States eager to spread the news and begin using the

substance on their patients. Neither of them

anticipated the arduous battle that was ahead.

"The Kenyans had developed something quite

good in the treatment of AIDS," says Muhammad.

"But we realized that people were not convinced

by stories of what had occurred in an African

country. The [Kenyan's] excellent research had

been largely ignored in the West."

Muhammad and Justice began treating their

own patients, believing that if the test results were

published in the United States, they couldn't be

ignored. By 1992, the doctors had treated fifty

patients, 82 percent of whom had showed

improvement. That summer, they made a

presentation at the American Medical Association

meeting. Gradually, things began to change.

This past spring, after a

five-year struggle, clinical

trials with low-dose alpha

interferon (LDOAI) therapy

finally began in this country.

And three historically Black

medical institutions (HBMIs)

--Howard University

Medical Center, Meharry

Medical College, and

King/Drew Medical Center

--are among the sixteen

participating sites.

"This is the first time

that a major medical

breakthrough in Africa was

brought to these shores,"

states Muhammad.

The trials are being

funded by the National

Institute of Allergy and

Infectious Diseases (NIAID),

a division of the National

Institutes of Health. The

multi-center study will

evaluate the effectiveness of LDOAI therapy in

reducing the symptoms of AIDS. Dr. Jones Jumi,

of the Mercy Specialty Center in Detroit,

Michigan, is the study chair. Dr. Wayne Greaves,

of Howard, is the project's co-chair. The study will

include 560 subjects who already have the HIV

virus.

A Natural Substance

Unlike AZT and other synthetic drugs that

have been used to treat the symptoms of HIV/

AIDS, alpha interferon is a natural substance

produced by the human immune system to combat

infections. The nationwide study compares

three preparations of LDOAI--Alferon

LDO, Veldona, and Ferrimune. The

form being used in Muhammad's clinic is

administered orally or nasally.

"The receptors for [alpha interferon] are

in the back of the throat," Muhammad

explains. "We have a liquid alpha interferon

that gets filled into the nose, then it drips

down into the throat.... You try to get as

much of it in the back of the throat as

possible."

Because alpha interferon is a natural

substance which originated in Africa, it has

gained acceptance among the

African-American participants in the study,

according to Dr. Mary Ann South, of

Meharry Medical College.

"For our population of African

Americans, it will be important to know

whether this drug works," says South.

Though not all of the study participants are

Black, the three historically Black medical

institutions were selected to participate in the

study, in part, to ensure that the sample of

the study population included people of

color. …