Should you give somebody a deadly disease if it might cure another deadly disease?
After six months of investigation, the Office for Protection of Research Studies (OPRS) at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has confirmed that UCLA researcher John Fahey “was engaged in human subjects research.” His research was part of the controversial malariotherapy studies for HIV conducted in China by the Heimlich Institute.
Malariotherapy is a medical treatment that involves injecting a human subject with a curable form of malaria, plasmodium vivax. It was used from 1918 to 1975 to cure neurosyphillis until the disease was eradicated in 1975 by the discovery of more effective antibiotics.
UCLA stated last February that the university had “never approved any research studies pertaining to malariotherapy for HIV.”
On March 30, the OPRS determined that although Dr. Fahey was not personally involved in the clinical trials, “he was involved in evaluating data and biological samples brought to UCLA from China,” according to a statement issued to UCLA.
Fahey and Dr. Najib Aziz had assisted in the training of Dr. Chen Xiao Ping of the People’s Republic of China and other international scholars on how to conduct and evaluate AIDS research studies, according to a statement issued by the university to the UCLA Daily Bruin last February.
Chen’s training was conducted under the auspices of the UCLA and the Fogarty AIDS International Research Program. Upon returning to China, Chen performed malarial studies in conjunction with the Heimlich Institute, acknowledging his immunology training by Fahey in his research paper.
Last October, a medical oversight board at UCLA began reviewing claims about the involvement of UCLA researchers Fahey and Aziz when the allegations were brought to the attention of Steven Peckman, associate director for Human Research Subjects for the OPRS at UCLA. Peckman received an anonymous e-mail requesting an investigation of the involvement of Fahey and Aziz in malariatherapy studies.
Dr. Henry Heimlich ’43, president of the Heimlich Institute and inventor of the Heimlich maneuver, said that he had “no relationship to the action [Fahey] was involved in at UCLA.”
“The notion [of the allegations] were based on an anonymous letter,” Heimlich said. He refused to comment further and said that malariotherapy is widely accepted.
The UCLA investigation has raised many questions about the merits of the Heimlich Institute’s research in malariotherapy.
Although, malariotherapy was widely used from 1918 to 1974 to treat neurosyphillis, it was discontinued due to the discovery of more effective antibiotics.
Heimlich first proposed malariotherapy as a treatment for HIV in the early 90’s, claiming that the treatment could cure AIDS and cancer. The treatment is based on the studies of 1927 Nobel Prize winner Julius Wagner-Jauregg who found that malariotherapy cured neurosyphillis.
Dr. Margaret Humphreys, associate clinical professor of medicine at Duke University, noted the moral controversies in her study of malaria while treating neurosyphillis.
Humphreys said that in 1931, the British physiologist Sir Henry Hallett Dale noted, “the splendid opportunity [malariotherapy] offered to experiment on a disease in humans with no moral qualms.”
“Since the production of malaria was a therapeutic measure of benefit to the patient, it was unambiguously justifiable,” she said.
However, Humphreys also noted that “the ordinary moral difficulty, the ordinary complicati”