The 11th International Conference on Transfer Factor, organized by the University of Nuevo Leon and professors Rayes Tamez Guerra and Cristina Rodrigez Padilla, was held in Monterrey, Mexico, March 1-4. The field has dwindled from its glorious days in the 1970s, due to the rejection of the concept of transfer of antigen-specific information to uncommitted lymphocytes using a structurally unidentified low-molecular-weight cell extract. But clinical research continues in several parts of the world, mainly in developing countries.
Once again, the reported clinical results were important, and theoretically, should warrant funding to further explore the phenomenon and exploit its uses for patients' benefit. Indeed, from viral and fungal infections to malignant disorders, from herpes to tuberculosis, transfer factor has proven able to stimulate immune defenses, preventing new infections or relapses and shortening the course of disease.
Giancarlo Pizza (Bologna, Italy), The International Transfer Factor Society's new president and the only Westerner now authorized to use transfer factor to treat patients on a hospital-routine basis, reported observations covering 25 years of clinical studies. The number of patients (1,616), the clinical success, and the absence of side effects over time were impressive.
Similarly, H. Hugh Fudenberg (Spartanburg, S.C.), in a 30-year retrospective, concurred with the effectiveness and the absence of toxicity of the compound. Clinical observations, convincing by their number and their outcomes, were also reported by Mexican and Czech investigators.
More fundamental studies came from Charles Kirkpatrick (Denver) and tried to shed light on the structure of the compound; unfortunately, the amino acid sequence is still wanting. Cuban data presented by Celia Fernandez-Ortega and Miriam Ojeda confirmed previously reported, intriguing in vitro anti-HIV activities (suppression of a transcription factor) and the capacity of transfer factor to specifically inhibit gene expression of certain cytokines.
At the end of the meeting the malaise that the transfer factor saga may induce in those not used to the policies, politics, and dogmas of biomedical science, could not be better expressed than they were in the naïve question of a Mexican student: "Since transfer factor is so efficacious, nontoxic, and relatively [in]expensive, why is it not better known and widely used?" It is difficult to explain to the young that logic, science, commercial interests, and patients' well-being seldom coincide. It seems that despite several thousands of well-documented clinical cases, transfer factor will remain in the domain of impossible facts and rejected-by-"hard"-science concepts as long as its structure and mode of action are undefined. This is too bad for the patient who continues to resort to more expensive and toxic drugs, which may not always be as effective.
However, since the future is unpredictable, the few scientists still working in the field hope to overcome the tremendous odds. Thanks to the recently founded society (Web address: 18.104.22.168/itfs/default.htm), they are looking forward to the next meeting in 2002, in Prague. They are also confident that by then, the new standards of activity defined by the society and the unraveling of the molecular structure will render the incredible riddle a credible, understood phenomenon.
Hope, often beyond reason, has always fueled human endeavors, including science.
Dimitri Viza is director of the Immunobiology Laboratory at the Faculte de Medecine des Saints-Peres in Paris. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
See also: D. Viza, G. Pizza, "Transfer factor in AIDS patients," The Scientist, 11:10, April 28, 1997; H.H.Fudenberg, "Transfer factor clarification," The Scientist, 11:10, April 28, 1997; and H.H. Fudenberg, "AIDS research," The Scientist, 11:13, Feb. 17, 1997.