FOR THE RECORD (November 22, 1995): Correction: An AIDS drug will be tested on baby monkeys at the Primate Center in Medical Lake. A story and headline in Tuesday’s newspaper mistakenly used the word apes to describe monkeys.
The next test for a possible breakthrough AIDS drug is whether it can block the virus in newborn monkeys the way it has in dozens of other apes at a Medical Lake laboratory.
Doctors at the University of Washington Regional Primate Center started experimenting with the drug PMPA last year. Twenty-five monkeys were exposed to SIV, the primate version of HIV, which leads to AIDS.
The monkeys were given a daily dose of the drug for four weeks, and no infection has shown up in their blood more than a year later.
The results are particularly impressive because the breed of monkey used in the study - macaque fascicularis - is among the least tolerant of infections, doctors said Monday.
“They have the best chance of dying from the virus,” said Joe Bielitzki, a veterinarian supervisor at the primate center. “They were picked for that reason.”
Ten other monkeys that weren’t given PMPA after being exposed now have SIV.
The 56-week study is being hailed by national experts as the most promising so far in AIDS research. The results could mean better protection for health care workers who are exposed to the virus and people who find out they recently had had sex with an infected partner.
Scientists at the Medical Lake lab aren’t done exploring PMPA’s possibilities.
They plan next to infect pregnant monkeys with SIV and give PMPA to their offspring immediately after birth. If the doctors’ suspicions are correct, the virus won’t be transferred to newborns that are given the drug.
“That would truly be unprecedented,” said William Morton, director of the UW’s Primate Center in Seattle.
“Right now, of course, there is nothing to stop the maternal-fetal transmission.”
New monkeys will be used for additional studies on PMPA, Morton said, because the 25 primates in the most recent project still must be monitored to make sure the virus doesn’t show up later.
It could be months or years before the scientists believe their work is finished, Morton said. Then the monkeys all will be euthanized, because scientists will not use them again in other studies, even if the virus never shows up in their systems.
The monkeys used in the PMPA project came from an island off the coast of Indonesia that is used as a breeding colony by the UW and several other schools.
Most of the 1,200 other monkeys at the Medical Lake facility are born and raised there.
Scientists used federal money from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases to pay for the PMPA study. The monkeys themselves cost from $1,200 to $1,800 each.
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