ST. LOUIS (AP) — Saint Louis University is vigorously defending a research partnership with a Chinese scientist whose work on a study that intentionally infected AIDS patients with malaria was roundly condemned by public health experts.
The Jesuit school’s Center for World Health and Medicine has worked with China’s Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health since 2011 to develop anti-malaria drugs. The drugs are tested on mice. The government-backed lab is overseen by Dr. Xiaoping Chen, who previously collaborated with Dr. Henry Heimlich in a bid to kill the HIV virus through high fevers caused by malaria in the mid- and late 1990s.
In an Aug. 7 letter to Peter Heimlich, the university’s vice president for research indicated that the Chinese doctor’s past work is not relevant to the current collaboration. Peter Heimlich is a vocal and public critic of his father, the elderly doctor whom he claims exaggerated his role in developing the Heimlich maneuver to stop choking. Dr. Henry Heimlich helped establish the Chinese “malariotherapy” clinic and provided funding for its work.
“This research project does not involve testing on human subjects,” wrote Raymond Tait after Heimlich sent a letter of complaint to the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, the school’s president. “The university…is dedicated to the discovery and development of safe, effective and affordable therapies for malaria and other diseases, especially those that afflict the poor and underserved. We hope that the continued pursuit of improved treatments for drug-resistant malaria ultimately will benefit the many people across the globe who are now at risk.”
The younger Heimlich — an Atlanta fabric company owner who split with his father a decade ago over a personal rift and initially circulated anonymous criticisms of the anti-choking physician — said SLU’s attempts to distance itself from the malaria study are incompatible with the Catholic school’s mission.
“These experiments would never be permitted in the U.S. and other countries because they violate laws protecting the rights of humans used in medical research,” he said, referring to a 2003 internal inquiry by the University of California-Los Angeles after one of its scientists was linked to Heimlich’s work abroad. “When I wrote to Father Biondi, I assumed SLU was unaware of Dr. Chen’s malariotherapy history and that the school would be concerned. When I received Dr. Tait’s letter, I was surprised to learn that the university had no interest.”
University spokeswoman Nancy Solomon declined an Associated Press request to interview Tait and the two university researchers who oversee its global health research center, a pair of former Pfizer Inc. drug discovery scientists. Both Chen and the Chinese research center — the equivalent of the National Science Foundation in this country – did not immediately respond to interview requests Wednesday.
“We have looked into questions raised by Mr. Heimlich about Dr. Chen’s previous research and have confirmed that this research was done in accordance with the regulatory authority of China at that time,” Solomon said in a prepared statement. “It is unfortunate that Mr. Heimlich is casting aspersions on an important project that potentially could save lives and reduce pain and suffering to vulnerable populations, especially infants and children in poverty stricken regions of the world.”
Henry Heimlich, 93, lives in an assisted living center in Cincinnati. An aide who answered the phone at his residence Wednesday said he was not immediately available for comment.
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