Throughout the 1980s, the worldwide medical community was in a race to find a cure for the deadly HIV/AIDS pandemic. Medical scientists were using the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) as research models for the human diseases. Advances in understanding the immune system were moving at breakneck speed to find a treatment for AIDS.
But even before this all-out scientific chase, Dr. Terry Beardsley, a graduate researcher specializing in immunology at Baylor College of Medicine, had set out to discover a biological treatment pathway that emulated the body’s own, natural defense processes, a discovery that could reverse the fatal effects of severe combined immunodeficiency disease (SCID). This work was published1 and provided a better understanding of bone marrow transplantation and the function of the thymus gland.
Prior to the discovery of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) virus in 1981, Dr. Beardsley demonstrated, while a faculty member at UCLA, that retrovirus infection alters the structure of the thymus gland and its ability to produce mature functional T-Cells2. The studies supported the theory that retrovirus infection of thymic epithelial cells caused defective T-Cell development, leading to immunodeficiency and/or leukemia3. In 19934 the theory was ultimately proven that the destruction of thymic epithelium is a major contributor to failure of immune regeneration in AIDS.
It was also known that peptides extracted from thymus gland cells could somehow control the immune system’s response to viral attack. As a faculty member at the University of California, San Diego, Dr. Beardsley refined this cellular theory by being the first to clone thymic epithelial cells, successfully identifying and describing one of the immunoregulatory proteins involved in the process and the type of cells that produced it. Dr. Beardsley’s research findings culminated in a landmark publication in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science5.
By this time, anti-HIV drug cocktails had been developed, promising hope for patients undergoing treatment, but producing the unfortunate result of reduced funding for biological, immune restoration approaches to retroviruses.
Undaunted, Dr. Beardsley formed T-Cyte Therapeutics, Inc. to develop LTCI (Lymphocyte T-cell Immunomodulator) to treat the devastating effects of FeLV and FIV viruses in cats.
Since FIV and/or FeLV-infected cats were used for clinical models of human AIDS, Beardsley’s studies suggested that his molecule, Lymphocyte T-Cell Immunomodulator (LTCI), could be used as a therapy for the treatment of immunocompromised cats.
These retroviruses infect CD-4 cells; cause a drop in the white blood cell (WBC) count; and increase susceptibility to opportunistic infections. Clinically, the diseases in cats are characterized by below-normal WBCs, chronic gingivitis, upper respiratory infections, dermatologic lesions, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and anemia.
FIV and FeLV are chronic and progressive diseases that are often fatal. In many cases, cats are brought to the veterinary clinic in the latter stages of the diseases.
Diagnoses of both are confirmed by blood tests. As in human AIDS, antiviral therapy has been experimentally attempted using AZT and alpha-Interferon. Unfortunately, both drugs also suppress the immune system and have the potential to aggravate immune deficiency and susceptibility to infection.
Until LTCI was granted a conditional license by the USDA, there was no effective treatment of the disease or its symptoms: Practitioners could only prescribe palliative care, isolation, and ultimately, euthanasia.
Dr. Beardsley and T-Cyte Therapeutics have demonstrated that LTCI is able to enhance the immune status of FeLV/FIV-infected cats with a corresponding, significant improvement in clinical symptoms. The therapeutic effects appear to be long-lasting, without any side effects.