Black Medical Community Boosts AIDS Research: Howard, Meharry, King/Drew Receive NIH Funding to Study Alpha Interferon
Fields, Cheryl D., Black Issues in Higher Education
Black Medical Community Boosts AIDS Research: Howard, Meharry, King/Drew. Receive NIH Funding to Study Alpha Interferon
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. …