A Leprosy Research Model
William R. Levis expressed the concept that leprosy is a slow-motion example of the human immune responses controlled by T-helper cells, and he proposed that the disease may be a model for investigating infectious diseases.1 Based on the historical observation that leprosy patients seem to improve clinically following blood transfusions, S.D. Lim and colleagues theorized that the clinical improvement observed was not due to the effect of increased mass of red blood cells in the patients, but maybe due to the accompanying infused leucocytes.
In Korea, they gave leprosy patients over a period of two to three months biweekly intravenous infusions of histocompatible allogenic leucocytes from two units of blood from different normal adults.2,3 All patients cleared their clinical diseases based on three observations: the clinical arresting of the disease, the histologically confirmed disappearance of active leprosy pathology in several monitored organs, and the histologic disappearance of bacilli in skin and lymph nodes. After completion of several months of infusion therapy, a lepromatous patient treated in the United States by the same technique elected not to take sulfones after developing a sulfone allergy. Thirty years later, that patient is still free of Hansen's disease.4
This approach needs further study because it may lead to a useful treatment of not only leprosy patients but may also benefit patients with virulent forms of Mycobacterium tuberculosis or other infectious disorders that are undergoing the evolutionary development of acquired bacterial resistance to standard antibiotic therapy.
Ramon M. Fusaro, MD, PhD
Professor of Preventive Medicine
and Public Health and Medicine
Creighton University and University
of Nebraska Medical Center
2500 California Plaza, Omaha, NE 68178-0403
1. T. Hollon, "The leprosy watcher," The Scientist, 16:15-17, June 24, 2002.
2. S.D. Lim et al., "Leprosy VI: The treatment of leprosy patients with intravenous infusions of leukocytes from normal persons," Clinical Immunology and Immunopathology, 1:122-39, 1972.
3. S.D. Lim et al., "Immunodeficiency in leprosy," Birth Defects: Original Articles Series, 11:244-9, 1975.
4. R.M. Fusaro, personal observation of the US patient.