UCLA Researcher Broke Federal Rules With Involvement in Malariotherapy AIDS Treatment Study, University Board Says
A University of California-Los Angeles medical oversight board announced Tuesday that a UCLA researcher violated federal rules and the university's policy for the protection of human subjects with his involvement in a malariotherapy study in which AIDS patients in China were injected with malaria-infected blood, the Los Angeles Times reports. UCLA's institutional review board, which reviews medical experiments involving human subjects, stated that although microbiology professor John Fahey "did not participate directly" in the study, he did evaluate study data and biological samples brought to the university by a Chinese scientist -- "without requisite permission from the board," according to the Times (Trounson/ Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 4/16). The study, which is being conducted by Chinese researchers for the Cincinnati-based Heimlich Institute, is examining whether high fevers induced by malaria could serve as a possible treatment for HIV/AIDS. The CDC, health professionals and human rights advocates have called malariotherapy a "medical 'atrocity.'" A UCLA institutional review board in December 2002 said in a statement that it had uncovered "no evidence" linking Fahey and his associate Najib Aziz to the experiments. But the Cincinnati Enquirer reported in February that it obtained documents showing the two researchers had been involved in the studies since 1996, including memos to Dr. Henry Heimlich -- the founder of the institute -- that referred to the malariotherapy study as "striking" and offered help to continue the research through UCLA. UCLA at that point reopened the investigation into the researchers. They also asked Heimlich to "omit UCLA from all references relating to malaria studies or other Heimlich Institute research," adding, "Any claims of an affiliation with UCLA are inaccurate" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/19). Fahey said that he "regrets the misunderstanding this matter has caused."
Heimlich said that he was "not aware if Dr. Fahey followed the proper procedure" in his work. "That is between Dr. Fahey and UCLA," Heimlich said, adding that the current available data "indicates that malariotherapy offers a safe, promising and inexpensive way to help the millions of people suffering from AIDS throughout the underdeveloped world." Steven Peckman, UCLA's associate director of human subjects research, said, "The feeling here is that Dr. Fahey made an honest mistake. He has provided substantial assurances of his compliance in the future." The board also found that Aziz did not break any rules, according to UCLA spokesperson Max Benavidez. He said that Aziz was acting "under Dr. Fahey's purview." Benavidez said that the university will review the board's decision to determine if disciplinary action is warranted for Fahey, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 4/16).