Biotherapy Vol. 9, 1996.
TRANSFER FACTOR IN THE ERA OF AIDS
Giancarlo Pizza, Dimitri Viza
bark only at the unknown.
At the turn of the century, when reductionism and molecular biology
have proven their efficacy to the satisfaction of many, transfer
factor remains an irksome concept. Forty years after the original
and seminal observation relating to the ability of leucocyte dialysates
to transfer specific immunity from a sensitive donor to a naive
recipient, thus forging the transfer factor concept and describing
for the first time a lymphokine, the spectrum of activities of
the dialysable leucocyte extracts has been considerably widened,
whilst the controversy concerning the mode of action and the carrier
molecules remains more vivid then ever. Indeed, to the initial
antigen-specific transfer phenomenon, several other effects have
been described since, calling for the identification of the carriers.
It would seem that for each T lymphocyte subpopulation, viz. helper,
cytotoxic and suppressor correspond dialysable lymphokines with
antigen-specific, and probably also non-specific activities.
However, because the molecular structure of the moieties responsible
for the antigen-specific transfer remains elusive, and their putative
mode of action challenges accepted beliefs, the transfer factor
concept has become the target of unsubstantiated intellectual
prejudice, and this despite the characterization of molecules within
the dialysates exercising important non-specific effects on cell
mediated immunity. As a consequence of the rejection of the concept,
lack of funding followed suite, making further progress in the
field quasi-impossible. Ironically, the logic forbidding the existence
of transfer factor, applied to prions, a proteinaceous infectious
agent whose activity contravenes accepted dogmas, should lead to
similar wariness and critical rejection, making the Creutzfeldt-Jakob
disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy or scrapie mere antifacts,
and thus preventing funding of research on this topic.
Despite this state of affairs, investigators and clinicians throughout
the world are still interested in the extraordinary properties
of dialysable leucocyte extracts. One should see here the unabated
health of the scientific spirit, since some scientists and clinical
investigators have jeopardized their careers for the sake of their
belief in facts, rather than in consensual theories.
The Bologna Symposium bore witness to this spirit, viz. that
a scientific problem cannot be buried under unsubstantiated rumours
and the censorship of orthodoxy. Nonetheless, the 'transfer factor
battle' will not be won until such a time when the molecular structure
of all the moieties within the leucocyte dialysates will be unravelled
and their mechanism of action at the cellular and molecular level
understood. Meanwhile, the results of the laboratories that can
afford to withstand the pressure of consensus and continue to work
on the subject show that the observations published in the 70's
and 80's were not mere artifacts due to the incompetence of the
pre-AIDS era scientists. Rather, the clinical results reported
herein suggest that transfer factor, the initial moiety, as well
as the other lymphokines within the dialysable leucocyte extracts,
have an important role to play in modem medicine, which from AIDS
to Ebola faces the emergence of new viruses or the resurfacing
of old pathologies such as tuberculosis, whilst strange prion-like
entities threaten humans and their cattle.