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AIDS Patient Well, Experts Debate Baboon Marrow Transplant

December 15, 1995

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ An AIDS patient who received an experimental baboon bone marrow transplant rested in isolation Friday while medical experts and advocates debated the value of the treatment that could kill him.

Jeff Getty, 38, was on his feet and joking soon after undergoing the 30-minute process Thursday, said Ruthann Richter, spokeswoman for San Francisco General Hospital.

Getty, of Oakland, received the transplant because baboons are immune to AIDS, and doctors hope the animal’s disease-fighting cells will take root in his body. It will be several months before they know if the transplant succeeded.

``I’m not expecting miraculous results,″ Getty said in a statement released just before the operation. ``No matter what happens, however, the study will provide information which could benefit all people living with AIDS, as well as people living with other life-threatening diseases.″

The doctor who designed the treatment says its value outweighs the risks.

``We feel we have a chance to reconstitute the immune system of people with late-stage AIDS,″ said Dr. Suzanne Ildstad of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

If the transplant fails, Getty is likely to die quickly because his battered immune system was further suppressed with drugs and radiation to reduce the risk of rejecting the baboon cells, doctors say.

He will remain in quarantine for two to three weeks, in part because of his suppressed immune system, but also to prevent him from spreading any possible unknown baboon infection.

The risk of unleashing an epidemic was one reason the Food and Drug Administration delayed approving the baboon marrow transplant for two years, and many medical experts are still worried.

``There are numerous retroviruses that have not yet affected man that we know are in baboons _ the possibility of creating a new infection is real,″ said Dr. Jeffrey Laurence, director of Cornell University’s AIDS lab and a senior scientist at the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

The process is also extremely expensive and unlikely to be of immediate help to most AIDS patients even if it works, he said.

Dr. Irving Chen, head of the University of California at Los Angeles AIDS Institute, says the treatment is speculative, but has a chance of succeeding.

``I think the general concept is not totally off the wall _ if the baboon cells take, and if they don’t do something else deleterious,″ Chen said.

And he’s more optimistic than Laurence that success would reach other HIV-infected patients quickly.

``If it really works, I think we’ll see a lot of people jumping on it,″ the price will come down, and availability will increase, he said.

AIDS advocacy groups see Getty, a member of the militant group Act Up, as a hero.

``This is a high-risk approach, undoubtedly, but there is even greater risk in not taking aggressive steps to treat and learn more about this disease,″ said Martin Delaney, founding director of Project Inform, an AIDS education and advocacy group.

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