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Charles Kettering Made Dayton Site of Feverish Medical Research

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on December 3, 1994



Roz Young


            Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, of Cincinnati, is working on a project he hopes may cure AIDS. Under his direction, nine patients in China have undergone malaria therapy for the treatment of the disease.

            "It is too early to announce definitive results," Heimlich said in announcing the experiment in the Heimlich Foundation newsletter."This will take two years of follow-up studies, but some patients show evidence of an increase in immune factors."

            Malaria fever stimulates production of immune substances, and after three or four weeks of treatment, the malaria is cured with chloroquine.

            Malaria therapy was used from 1915 to 1975 to treat thousands of patients suffering with syphilis of the brain. The treatment brought about the eradication of brain syphilis. Dr. Julius Wagner-Jauregg of Vienna received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1927 for the discovery of malariatherapy.

            In the 1930s, Charles F. Kettering had a number of medical acquaintances who met on Sunday afternoons at Ridgeleigh Terrace to talk about current medical issues. They all agreed that keeping up with recent medical advances was becoming more and more difficult. Kettering funded a series of bimonthly meetings on medical research and hired Dr. Walter M. Simpson, a young pathologist from Johns Hopkins University, to coordinate the meetings and head the pathology laboratories at Miami Valley Hospital.

            In 1930 Paul de Kruif, a popular writer on medical subjects, visited Simpson and told him about Dr. Wagner-Jauregg, whom he had interviewed in Vienna about his experiments with malaria therapy. Simpson told Kettering about de Kruif's visit, and Kettering became enthusiastic about treating numerous diseases with fever therapy and invited de Kruif for a visit. He questioned him for several hours about the treatment. Always the electrical engineer, Kettering wondered whether fever could be induced by electricity rather than malaria.

            He learned that Willis Whitney of General Electric had invented a mechanized method of inducing fever with a radiotherm, a shortwave oscillator. Kettering called Whitney and asked to buy one of his machines for Miami Valley Hospital. He hoped it might be effective for the treatment of asthma, syphilis, arthritis and related diseases. Whitney was reluctant to sell him a machine, saying nobody at the hospital would know how to use it, but he finally relented to Kettering's pressure and sold him a machine.

            Physicians sent patients for treatment. The first patients suffered severe burns when beads of sweat developed on their bodies. Kettering added a fan to circulate hot air over the patients and dry the perspiration and counteracted severe dehydration with doses of saltwater flavored with peppermint.

            He later discovered that fever could be induced by hot air alone, without the radiotherm. Each treatment lasted five hours and produced side effects in some patients of vascular collapse and kidney damage. But further refinements eased the problems.

            After four years of fever therapy on 384 patients and 2,844 sessions, Simpson in the Journal of American Medicine reported remission in some cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, rheumatic fever, chorea and arthritis.

            The report was received favorably by the medical profession, and Kettering started plans to manufacture the fever-producing cabinets at Frigidaire. He sent 30 cabinets to medical research centers such as the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University.

            In 1935, Dayton held a national conference on fever therapy. Both Kettering and Simpson received the Chevalier Legion d' Honneur, France's highest civilian award, presented at the First International Congress on Fever Therapy in New York in May 1937.

            Fever therapy was used until the discovery of penicillin and other chemotherapeutics during World War II.

            Heimlich's treatment of AIDS patients with malaria therapy has been criticized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A CDC spokesman said, "No evidence currently exists to indicate the malaria infection would beneficially affect the course of HIV infection. Without evidence . . . the use of induced malaria infection in HIV-infected individuals cannot be justified."

            Heimlich points out that although billions of dollars have been spent looking for a vaccine to fight AIDS, the report from the international AIDS conference in Japan last year reported no progress.

            He is not daunted by critics. Critics can come around. For the past eight years the American Red Cross did not teach the Heimlich Maneuver in lifesaving and water classes or describe its use in its manuals. But as of July 15, the Red Cross began informing its affiliates and the general public to use the Heimlich Maneuver for drowning victims.

            How miraculous it will be if Heimlich's experiments find a cure for AIDS.