An Oakland man dying of AIDS underwent a historic baboon bone marrow transplant Thursday evening in a last-ditch attempt to save his life.
Jeff Getty, 38, has been fighting for two years to get permission for the controversial experiment, which may offer him a few more months of survival or which, critics charge, may kill him.
"It's about time," Getty said in a prepared statement. "I'm lucky to still be alive."
Getty has been undergoing a series of radiation and chemotherapy treatments all week at San Francisco General Hospital to kill his own HIV-infected bone marrow.
That series culminated Thursday afternoon in a final radiation treatment that prepared the way for the baboon tissue that was infused into his bloodstream Thursday night in a half-hour procedure.
"He's doing very well," a hospital spokeswoman said. "He feels very good. He's up and talking and even making jokes."
Dr. Steven Deeks of UC San Francisco, Getty's physician, hopes the baboon cells will take root in Getty's bones and begin fighting any AIDS viruses that remain in his body. The experimental treatment is based on observations that baboons, for reasons that are not yet known, generally do not contract AIDS.
The technique was developed by Dr. Suzanne Ildstad of the University of Pittsburgh. Although baboons are closely related to humans, such a transplant would not normally be expected to succeed. Ildstad, however, has identified a blood cell, which she calls a facilitator cell, that makes a cross-species bone marrow transplant possible.
If the baboon graft does not succeed, Getty is likely to die because his own immune system, which has hitherto offered some protection against his AIDS, has been destroyed.
Critics charge that even if the transplant does succeed, Getty is likely to die from either an attack by the baboon cells, the so-called graft-versus-host disease, or infection by a baboon virus carried by the transplanted cells--even though researchers have gone to great lengths to ensure that such a transmission does not occur.
"This will probably hasten [Getty's] death, not prevent it," said Dr. Hugh Auchincloss Jr. of Massachusetts General Hospital.
The Humane Society of the United States has also condemned the surgery because it required killing the baboon donor.