the desperate search for an effective Aids
But the Israeli doctors see their own
work as just one part of an enormous,
fiendishly difficult, jigsaw puzzle.
While the Israeli treatment reduces the
ability of the AIDS virus to spread, other
researchers can now concentrate on tack-
ling the problem of reviving the patient's
devastated immune system in order to
combat the myriad ailments which typical-
ly ravage an AIDS victim.
"It is the same story with all these
dreadful diseases," says Professor Meir
Shinitsky, who discovered and developed
AL-721 at his Department for Membrane
Research at the Weizmann Institute.
"There is no single, magic bullet. The cure,
when it comes, will be a team effort.
"We are encouraged by the results we
have achieved so far;' he says, "but we have
to test it on many more patients before we
can evaluate it effectively. I would guess
that a cure, and a vaccination, for AIDS
is still three to ten years away."
Professor Shinitsky, 42, stumbled on the
AIDS treatment almost by accident. From
the early '80s, he and his researchers had
been working on a product designed to
restore lost function in aging tissue, par-
ticularly brain tissue.
They had discovered that a lipid corn-
pound extracted from egg yolk reduced the
level of cholesterol in human tissue (as op-
posed to cholesterol in the bloodstream)
and caused a decrease in the "rigidity" of
cell membranes, which is a symptom of the
aging of cells.
The AIDS connection came from a study
conducted ten years ago at the University
of Virginia, where researchers found that
certain viruses need a high level of cell
Hoping Beyond Hope
Special to Jewish News
he drugs that have been manufac-
tured to relieve the symptoms and
pain associated with the dreaded
disease AIDS come with names such as
AZT, AL-721, DNCB, lentinan, aerosol
pentamidine, fu zheng, coenzyme Q BHT,
naltrexone and ribavirin.
And while they all have success and
failure stories attached to their treatment
records, one thing seems certain: these
drugs are the focus of a wide range of emo-
tions, not the least of which are skep-
ticism, desperation, hope and frustration.
"People who have AIDS will grasp at
any straw;' said one Detroit Jewish
homosexual. "Even if the supposed cure
has not been perfected, I don't know of
any person who wouldn't be willing to try
"I know half a dozen gay people who
would be willing to go anywhere and do
anything. They know their lives are hang-
ing by a string, and if they know that the
string can be strenthened to a rope to
hang on to, they'll try just about
"Also people with AIDS are usually per-
fectly willing to be experiment& They
have, of course, self-saving purposes in
mind, looking for anything that will help
them, whatever the treatment is. Yes,
there is skepticism, but it's overridden to
try anything at any cost."
According to a San Francisco-based
publication called AIDS T-eatment News,
the great frustration over AL-721 is that
the FDA hasn't approved it for use yet in
this country, even though it is being used
in Israel. It's no secret that many gay
Americans have made the trip to Israel
and that many gays in this country have
obtained and used the drug. Indeed, in
one of its issues, the newsletter recounted
a story of a gay man who near death,
visited Israel and returned to the U.S.
26 FRIDAY DECEMBER 4. _ 1987
healthy and a firm believer in AL-721.
In its survey, the AIDS Reatment
News reported that 110 respondents in-
dicated that they had used AL-721, and
that about 50 percent found the treatment
helpful while 15 percent indicated it was
not helpful and 35 percent said they were
"My thinking is that people are mostly
skeptical about any new treatment;' said
John James, publisher of AIDS Treat-
ment News. "They really aren't as eager
as you might think to go out and try
something new Of course if they're within
a few days of death, they'll try anything.
But most people with AIDS are healthy
enough in the early stages to begin study-
ing and doing their own research on
what's best for them. And I find that
generally people are very skeptical."
"My thinking in general is that the
federal government is still extremely
remiss," said Daniel Najjar, founder of the
National Jewish AIDS Project. "They
should be testing as many drugs as possi-
ble. They should be rushing new treat-
ments in through the system. AL-721 is
just an example of how slowed up and
backed up their system is.
"New medications get reported through
the AIDS grapevine very quickly," Najjar
continued. `AIDS activists have been
pleading with the federal government to
put into trial anything they can. There is
absolutely no excuse for delays except for
Don Miller, a Baltimore activist
who was diagnosed as having AIDS in
1983, said that his partner, who also has
AIDS, is using the egg derivative to com-
bat his illness.
"From everything we've seen so far, it's
been good for him," said Miller, who once
conducted a much publicized survey to see
which area funeral homes would not ac-
cept people who had died of AIDS.
Miller, who is receiving treatment for an
AIDS-related lung problem, said that he
would also consider taking AL-721 down
the line if he needed to But after more
than four years since his diagnosis, Miller
said he's adjusted his attitude in an at-
tempt to live with AIDS instead of die
"Personally, I've conditioned myself to
accept any good treatment that is shown
not to have any bad side effects," Miller
said. "Sometimes the side effects are
worse than the disease. I'm at a relative-
ly healthy level at this point. But I could
see how if a person got really bad, they
might start grasping for medications. I
really don't like to take medications to
"Some people," he continued, "are
diagnosed in one day and they go crazy.
It's like initial shock and they want to take
every drug that's out there. For me, it's
been more of a roller coaster. Sometimes
I'm emotional and I don't want to talk
about AIDS anymore, and other times
I'm fighting it like hell. I'm a little skep-
tical about drugs, so I try to avoid them.
And I think that if I ever got to the point
of really suffering, I'm not going to main-
tain myself. I'd rather work myself into a
Or as Steve, a gay Jew who works in the
medical field here in Detroit, said, "Peo-
ple are experiencing a great deal of wishful
thinking. Maybe this medication will be
the one to do it all for me. You have to
remember that people in this situation will
grasp at anything.
"I know a person taking the drug AZT
who got really sick:' Steve continued,
"And now he's living by a macrobiotic diet
and he looks wonderful, but God only
knows what's happening to his insides.
One day there's hope and another day
there's none. Look, didn't Rock Hudson go
to France to do anything he could? I know
people who are going to gurus, hoping to
pray the disease away. It's all so tragic."