Weill Cornell Researchers Develop New Treatment Regimen for HIV-Positive Patients

Studies of Low-Dose Interleukin II Currently Underway

Mar 19, 1999


A promising new treatment protocol of Interleukin II (IL-2) is currently under development as an immune stimulant for HIV-positive individuals who have responded to medication but have not achieved recovery of their immune system. Pioneered by researchers at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, this low-dose, non-toxic regimen is now being investigated in clinical trials.

IL-2—originally described and characterized by Dr. Kendall Smith, Chief of Immunology in the Department of Medicine—has been used as an immune stimulant for cancer patients for more than 10 years. More recently, others have treated HIV-positive individuals with high doses of IL-2, but this led to severe side effects. Consequently, IL-2 could only be given for a few days every two months.

"This new regimen is different in that it entails daily low-dose administration of IL-2," said Dr. Smith, "and since it appears to be entirely non-toxic, patients can receive treatment without interruption to their daily lives."

Although new anti-viral drugs are effective in inhibiting HIV, they have not been proven effective in reconstituting the patient's damaged immune system. One of the manifestations of immune system damage is a deficiency of IL-2 production by "Helper" T cells.

The purpose of IL-2 therapy is to promote the return of normal numbers of "Helper" T cells and boost the number of Cytotoxic T cells, which, in turn, can destroy HIV-infected cells. As the number of "Helper T" cells returns to normal, the immune system is better equipped to respond to HIV as well as other infectious microbes.

Along with Dr. Smith, the Weill Cornell research team includes Dr. Elizabeth Jacobson, Assistant Professor of Medicine, and Dr. Roger Emert, Assistant Professor of Medicine, from the Immunology Division; Dr. David Warren, Assistant Professor of Medicine from the Center for Special Studies; and Dr. Michael Giordano, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of International Medicine and Infectious Diseases. Together they developed this new IL-2 treatment in clinical trials and pharmacological studies based on Dr. Smith's discovery of IL-2 receptors over 20 years ago.