Posted on the KeelyNet BBS on September 2, 1993 as PAPIMI.ASC, courtesy of Ray Berry.

Dr. Frome's One-Hour Aids Cure?
by Joe Seldner
from 'Los Angeles Magazine', July, 1993

It looks like some makeshift gizmo out of Mr. Wizard: a wooden box, about the size of a steamer trunk, slapped together with one red and one green plastic button and one small plate of glass on top. Then there's that garden hose-like thing, wrapped in black electrical tape with a loop on the end, coming out the side.

But it works like something out of Frankenstein. You know, where the grotesque patchwork cadaver is hooked up to a glob of wires, then hoisted to the very top of the laboratory during a frightening storm, where it's pummeled by bolts of lightning until it comes to life. Someone surely had a perverse sense of humor to nickname the PAP-IMI-300 "Lightning in a Box."

Although it was initially designed to treat cancer and is currently used to bring relief from pain, what PAP-IMI may--and that's an emphatic may--be is another kind of giver of life, one in the treatment of AIDS.

It must be stated up front that no one, including its prime advocate, physician-pain specialist-lawyer entrepreneur Bruce Frome, is claiming Lightning in a Box is a cure for AIDS. Nor is there any medical data on what exactly the machine does. But Frome--and the patients who have come to him to be electrically charged by this oddly primitive device certainly believes in its potential.

"If I had AIDS, I'd get this treatment," says Frome, whose many attributes don't include humility. After all, it was he who--as he puts it, simply and unabashedly-"changed the photo industry" as the founder of Fromex, the one-hour photo-processing shops that continue to dot the local strip-mall landscape, even though he no longer has anything to do with them. But Frome's lack of modesty is matched only by his patients' unwavering faith in him.

"It makes them feel better," he says "probably prolongs their lives, certainly improves the quality of their lives and gets rid of a great many opportunistic infections" that might otherwise kill them. If this sounds like a medical claim, it isn't, insists Frome. In fact, as he and his colleagues at his Westwood-based International Pain Research Institute await permission from the Food and Drug Administration to conduct three-month clinical trials with the PAP-IMI on more than 80 AIDS patients, at this point there is only anecdotal evidence from patients to support the curative powers of the machine.

Because the debate over AIDS treatment is, if you'll pardon the expression, so highly charged, people involved in potential modes of treatment choose their words carefully.

The actual inventor of the PAP-IMI, Panos Pappas, a 44 year-old Greek physicist now on sabbatical from the Technological Educational Institute in Athens and based at Frome's institute, describes in energetic detail how his machine functions, but he stops short of fanciful conjecture about its applications.

A short, balding man with a thick accent, Pappas says the machine--which he invented in 1988 with the intention of using it to treat cancer cells--is ''like an electrical storm... that changes the coding of the HIV virus." According to the thick document submitted to the FDA, the PAP-IMI "induces an electric current that disperses electric charges or ionic concentrations inside biological tissue of the affected organ," causing "beneficial biochemical changes."

In overly simplistic laymen's terms, that means it charges the cell's battery, making it better able to fight the common infections associated with AIDS, such as herpes, diarrhea and pneumonia.

An expert in the study of lightning, Pappas, who holds patents on many devices, including ones that protect ammunition depots from lightning strikes, notes that "lightning created proteins before life existed on this planet." He insists his machine can reduce pain, make hair grow and make wrinkles go away, all through its regenerative powers. When asked whether he would use it on himself to grow hair, he seemed surprised, replying, "Directly on my head?" He did recover enough to say he would be willing to do so at frequencies lower than the 22,000 volts used on patients.

When pressed about its AIDS potential, in fact, Pappas tends to defer with a "you need to ask Dr. Frome about that." Since Frome is providing money, office space and exposure for Pappas--now officially a "consultant" at the clinic, working on further applications of the PAP-IMI-- the deference is understandable. Still, there is also something in his demeanor that says, "Look, I hope this does what everyone wants it to do, but I'm just a lightning expert, okay?"

Despite his hubris, Bruce Frome is a likable fellow, flitting from room to room in surgical greens that do little to hide his prosperous midsection, a kind of swaggering Pillsbury Doughboy.

His office is a tiny, cluttered, windowless chamber in the middle of the clinic's first floor. In fact, much of the clinic, which just opened in January, still has the feeling of a household living out of boxes. The waiting room, though sparsely furnished, is awash in a sea of diplomas and declarations.

Overachievement is something of an avocation for Frome. In addition to an array of medical credentials, including a medical degree in 1962 from the University of Manitoba and a stint as head of anesthesiology at Daniel Freeman-Marina Hospital in Marina del Rey, the Canada native holds a law degree (University of West Los Angeles), a doctorate in health management (Kennedy-Western University) and is--yes--a licensed real estate agent.

The story of how Frome founded his revolutionary photo house, Fromex, like the virtues of his PAP-IMI device, depends on whom you ask. His version has it that in 1979, executives from the Japanese company Noritsu "came to me" with the breakthrough photo-processing technology in hopes of getting a U.S. foothold. Asked why they came to a Los Angeles doctor, he repeats his mantra: "I was known to be an innovative guy."

However, reports published at the time state that a relative of Frome's saw the technology at a Canadian trade show. When Frome heard about it, he was intrigued and went to Noritsu. Wherever the truth lies, what is not disputed is that Frome opened the first storefront operation of Fromex that year in Encino with his capital and their technology. ("I was the only one in the world at that time.") Quickly--perhaps too quickly--he sold franchises across the country. He fondly recalls leaving Daniel Freeman on Thursday nights, "taking the red-eye somewhere, finding a lease and opening up a store."

The company was undercapitalized, and three years and 108 stores later, the bankrupt concern was sold to a New York businessman, who retained the Fromex name. Frome is proud of the fact that during all of his other ventures, "I never stopped practicing medicine," and continued as chief of anesthesiology at Daniel Freeman.

But, he says, "most anesthesiologists don't like talking to people--that's why they go into it in the first place." And Frome wanted to concentrate on treating patients' pain, not on putting them under. So in 1987, he opened his first pain clinic, the Marina Pain Center in Marina del Rey.

Three years later, he teamed up with Atlanta's Premier Anesthesia, and that center became the first of four National Pain Institute sites. The other NPI clinics-in Huntington Beach, Santa Monica and Atlanta--all opened within a year.

A year later, however, he decided to sell his interest in NPI to Premier. The research he was doing, he claims, was "risky," and NPI's shareholders wanted the more secure revenue stream of treating patients. So he has taken that risk at his new center. "Here, we do all the things nobody else does," Frome boasts.

Apart from the PAP-IMI, his innovations include extensive work on biofeedback and the treatment of pain with a machine called the Pneumatherm, which, like the PAP-IMI, was invented by another researcher but put to use by Frome. The Pneumatherm "heats the deep tissue," he says, penetrating as much as four centimeters instead of the one centimeter of more traditional treatments.

Because the treatment "fools the brain into thinking you've been burned," patients generally fall asleep but awake refreshed and, they say, in far less pain. Frome heard of Pappas' work in late 1991, while trying to find an innovative treatment for his father-in-law's brain cancer. He was told- -incorrectly--that Pappas had a treatment for brain tumors that was not available in the United States. It turned out that the PAP-IMI did not work on brain or nerve cells but did have far-reaching pain implications, and a six-month telephone correspondence began before Pappas came to Los Angeles in May of last year.

If there are doubts about its value as an AIDS treatment, Lightning in a Box seems to have nothing but support from his pain patients. Dennis Tanenbaum, an L.A. architect and engineer, was working on a project in Belize in 1985 when a deranged local, for no apparent reason, came up to him with a machete and hacked off his leg just below the knee. "I just sat there and waited to die," he recalls.

After many doctors and much futile treatment to get rid of his pain, Tanenbaum was ready to give up and even considered doing himself in, when he came to Frome late last year after learning about him in an ad for the National Pain Institute. The PAP-IMI zappings to his leg stump have "given me my life back," he states.

Then there's Tom Norris, a retired military maintenance officer who says radiation damage from treatment for testicular cancer left him in excruciating pain, nearly unable to move for two years and fed up with both military and civilian doctors. "The military doesn't believe in pain," he laughs, and doctors at UCLA told him to live with it because nothing could be done.

"Dr. Frome was the first doctor I'd seen out of hundreds who really cared about me and gave me hope," Norris says. After starting treatments with what he calls the "electric doughnut" in January of this year, he says, "I now have a life, where I didn't have a life before."

The PAP-IMI works on standard alternating current and is "noninvasive"--which means the patient remains clothed and seated and simply puts the looped hose on his chest, neck or other targeted area. As the current pulsates through the loop, it feels like a continuous minor electric shock--less intense than sticking a finger in a wall socket.

The process appears to increase something called the transmembrane potential of cells--the voltage between the inner and outer sheaths--from around 15 to 75 millivolts, or from unhealthy to healthy levels. Patients currently being treated for pain or other symptoms come in to use the device for 20 to 30 minutes, once or twice a week. In the proposed clinical trials, there will be 36 treatments over the course of three months, each lasting 30 to 60 minutes. The effect, patients say, is immediate. Fatigue seems to be the first victim, with patients who normally go to bed by 9 reporting they stay up into the wee hours of the night of a treatment and still wake up refreshed.

This relief may, of course, be just a "jolt factor"-something like drinking 8 or 10 Cokes. And both patients and Frome warn that the rush wears off fairly quickly, as does the impact on such other symptoms as diarrhea and lung infections, unless a rigorous treatment schedule is maintained.

The first inkling Frome and Pappas had that the machine had applications for AIDS came when a patient being treated for AlDS-related pain noticed that his Karposi's sarcoma lesions cleared up soon after using the PAP-IMI. "We thought, Hmmm, this is something we should look into," says Frank Mingarella, an administrator at Frome's clinic.

Though it has still been tried in only nine AIDS cases, the patients themselves are emphatic. "My life has changed dramatically since I started coming here," says Brett Smiley, a 37-year-old HIV-positive actor-cum-waiter, as he sits patiently with the loop on his chest, the machine gyrating and pulsating away like Walter Mitty's "pocketa" machine.

Smiley says herpes outbreaks that used to last for weeks now go away in a matter of days. He, too, claims to have much more energy. It is only when he says that his T-cell count-- the government's key defining factor for AIDS classification--has improved that doctors quickly intervene to warn against jumping to conclusions. It may increase T-cell count, says Frome, but that is precisely why he wants FDA approval for clinical trials -- to gather evidence to support the testimonials.

Also, he says, because the AIDS virus "multiplies so fast," the effects of the treatment may last only days, or hours, with the infections, fatigue or other symptoms rapidly returning. On the plus side, no adverse side effects have yet been reported.

Naturally, there are skeptics. Dr. Castoria Seymore, chief of anesthesiology at Daniel Freeman-lnglewood, agrees that Frome "is a great entrepreneur." But he reflects the medical community's general opinion about the new territory Frome is traversing. "Pain is the big thing now," he says, explaining all the money and attention Frome's clinic is getting. But "I'd wait until I got some definitive data" before trumpeting the virtues of the PAP-IMI in AIDS treatment, he adds.

Dr. Michael Gottlieb, who first recognized AIDS as a new disease and is considered one of the country's foremost AIDS authorities, has one patient currently being treated with Lightning in a Box. Although Gottlieb, now in private practice in Sherman Oaks, says he doesn't know the treatment in detail, from what he does know, "it doesn't make sense." When we asked if he would recommend that his patients go to Frome, he said no.

Then there's Steven Kaali, of New York's Einstein Medical College, who is also working on the effects of electromagnetic current on the AIDS virus-- though his method applies electrical current directly to the blood through a kidney dialysis-like procedure. Kaali points out that an increase in a patient's T-cell count doesn't necessarily mean the patient is improving--the count can actually go up during an AlDS-related infection, as cells try to fight the disease. And Kaali, who says he is not aware of the device or of Frome's efforts, cautiously adds, "I appreciate everybody's results as long as they are reproducible. If they are not published and FDA approved, I am dubious."

Scott Hitt, a physician at Pacific Oaks Medical Group and a board member of AIDS Project Los Angeles, cautions that "so many leads like this go to a dead end... You have to cross-examine the hype before you hype it."

Ironically, Frome seems to agree. "I have people coming out of the woodwork literally every single day, bringing me stuff - cures for cancer, AIDS, all this weird holistic stuff." In a characteristic Frome flight from modesty, he adds, "I seem to have a special knack to filter out the bullshit... and find out if something works or not."

That, of course, is why he has submitted the clinical trials protocol to the FDA. Also, by submitting it as a potential AIDS treatment, it gets "fast-track" approval or denial in the current AlDS-crazed climate. (The FDA won't comment on requests or other materials pending before it.)

If Frome's radar is working and the PAP-IMI does in fact have a significant effect on the AIDS virus, the implications could be remarkable. But the down side is formidable, too. Pappas says Frome is "risking his reputation" by putting his faith in the device. Indeed, during the reporting on this story, several calls from colleagues at his pain institute tried to put a damper on Frome going public with his enthusiasm. The reasons ranged from a "fear" that the clinic would be besieged by AIDS patients wanting to be part of the trials to a "concern" that the FDA would look unfavorably on the clinic for "going public" before the approval process runs its course.

But Frome clearly revels in it all. One gets the impression that he sees himself as a cross between Ben Casey and Donald Trump (mid-'80s version). He takes a purse from a cabinet in his office and pulls out a small-caliber pistol. A despondent pain patient gave it to him, he says. She'd asked him to hold it until she got to the point where her pain was so bad she'd want to use it. Now she jokes about it, because her pain is gone.

"He does feel comfortable about what he is able to do," laughs Richard Jackson, chairman of Premier Anesthesia, which put an estimated $6 million into Frome's pocket with the NPI acquisition. But he insists Frome has the talent to match his ego. "He's really a pioneer in medicine," he says.

No one agrees with that more than Frome himself. "I'm an innovative guy," he muses. "Everybody knows I'm an innovative guy." And though he won't make specific medical claims about Lightning in a Box, he will say this: "The guys on the Nobel Prize committee are friends of mine," adding that the son of one committee member was "sure that this thing is a cure for AIDS."

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