July 3, 2008 -- The Democratic congressional candidate in Ohio, Dr. Victoria Wulsin, is being attacked by her Republican opponent for her work looking into a widely debunked theory that AIDS can be cured with malaria. The controversial treatment, known as "malariotherapy", has been denounced by leading AIDS researchers as dangerous, scientifically unfounded and unethical.
U.S. Representative Jean Schmidt (R-OH), locked in a tight race with Wulsin for an Ohio congressional seat, recently sent out a fund-raising letter sharply denouncing Wulsin for her work on a malariotherapy project. The letter states that "Wulsin's contempt for the culture of life has even led her to participate in grotesque medical experiments. Wulsin was paid for her work in medical "studies" where victims of AIDS in Africa and China were...injected with the malaria virus, all in the name of "scientific inquiry."
Dr. Wulsin, an epidemiologist who had worked with AIDS patients in Africa, was hired in 2004 by the Heimlich Institute in Cincinnati to conduct research into malariotherapy. The institute is headed by famed doctor Henry Heimlich, inventor of the life-saving Heimlich maneuver and as reported on ABC News 20/20, a leading proponent of using malaria to cure AIDS. In the 1990s, Heimlich commissioned a study where AIDS patients in China were deliberately infected with malaria and he was recently involved with a research project involving AIDS patients from Ethiopia who were initially denied available medicines to treat malaria.
According to Dr. Heimlich, "It gives off substances that strengthen their immune systems." Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, however, said there is no evidence that malariotherapy has any effect on AIDS. "It is scientifically unsound, and I think it would be ethically questionable. And it does have the fundamental potential of actually killing you."
Despite the assertions in Rep. Schmidt's letter, Dr. Wulsin told ABC News in an interview last year that she never directly participated in malariotherapy experiments and was only hired by Dr. Heimlich to review existing malariotherapy studies. "He commissioned a literature review and I demonstrated through that, that it was nowhere near scientific or ethically relevant or justifiable," said Wulsin.
In December of 2004, Wulsin submitted a draft report to Heimlich that concluded that "the preponderance of evidence indicates that neither malaria or Immunotherapy will cure HIV/AIDS." Wulsin said the following day she was fired by Heimlich. "I challenged the science and ethics of immunotherapy, malaria therapy. I didn't realize how much it was a challenge to his ethics and his science until he fired me," said Wulsin.
A complaint about Wulsin's involvement with Heimlich's malariotherapy project was filed with the Ohio Medical Board in 2006 by Robert Baratz, head of the National Council Against Health Fraud. This April, the board sent a letter to Wulsin stating that "no further action was required by the Board and the complaint was closed."
Wulsin's involvement in malariotherapy research was also an issue during the 2006 congressional elections, when she was also matched against Representative Schmidt. Wulsin narrowly lost that race to Schmidt by a scant 2,800 vote margin in the heavily Republican 2nd district of Ohio. The latest polls for this year's contest show Schmidt leading Wulsin 41 to 33 percent.
This post has been updated.