Transfer Factor

Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More

Transfer Factor

Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More
Transfer Factor

For Patients & Caregivers

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What is it?

Transfer factors have not been shown to treat or prevent cancer.

Transfer factors are a group of proteins produced by cells of the immune system. Studies in humans are limited. Some suggest that transfer factors can be used to treat herpes, infections in children, chronic fatigue syndrome, and yeast infections. Other data suggest they may boost the immune system in patients with AIDS. However, more research is needed to determine the effects of transfer factors.

What are the potential uses and benefits?
  • To treat cancer

    Evidence is lacking to support use of transfer factors for cancer treatment.
  • To treat multiple sclerosis

    Evidence is lacking to support this claim.
  • To treat AIDS

    One study showed that transfer factors increased the number of white blood cells in patients with AIDS.
  • To treat viral infections

    Small studies suggest some efficacy in treating herpes.
  • To treat liver inflammation

    Transfer factors were not effective in treating hepatitis.
  • To treat asthma

    Some studies have shown that transfer factors do not benefit patients with asthma.
  • To treat chronic fatigue syndrome

    A pilot study suggests transfer factors may have positive effects on chronic fatigue syndrome.
What are the side effects?
  • Fever, tenderness, pain, swelling

For Healthcare Professionals

Scientific Name
Transfer Factor
Clinical Summary

Transfer factors are a complex group of more than 200 highly polar, hydrophilic, low molecular weight (<12,000 Da) proteins produced in small quantities by lymphoid cells (1). They can be extracted from human or animal white blood cells, from cloned lymphocytes, or from colostrum and egg yolk. The parent lymphocyte’s delayed-type hypersensitivity and cell-mediated immunity is passed along to non-immune recipients, and appears to function across species. In animal models, transfer factors were shown to reduce tumor size and increase peripheral blood T-lymphocyte counts (21).

In humans, preliminary studies suggest transfer factors are well tolerated and may have some efficacy for the treatment of herpes (2), acute infection in children (3), chronic fatigue syndrome (4), and candidiasis (5). One study showed effectiveness in increasing white blood cells, CD8 lymphocytes, and IL-2 levels among patients with HIV (6). However, transfer factors were reported ineffective in treating hepatitis (7), multiple sclerosis (8), extrinsic bronchial asthma (9), warts (10), juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (28), and acne vulgaris (11).

Transfer factors were also ineffective against malignant melanoma (12), nasopharyngeal carcinoma (13), bronchogenic carcinoma (14), Hodgkin’s disease (15), osteogenic sarcoma (16), and mycosis fungoides (17). However, in a study of children with leukemia, immunization with transfer factors conferred protection against varicella-zoster infection (20). Other preliminary data suggest increased survival rates among patients with early stage lung and cervical cancers (18) (19).

Overall, there is a paucity of large randomized controlled clinical trials, and a need for further research into the effectiveness of transfer factors.

Purported Uses and Benefits
  • Cancer
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Viral infections
  • Hepatitis
  • Asthma
  • Chronic fatigue
Mechanism of Action

Transfer factors contain many molecules, some of which act in an antigen-specific manner, while others appear to have immunomodulating capabilities (1). Human leukocyte dialysates (DLE) contain low molecular peptides that were characterized in the late 1980s as amino terminal ends of enkephalins. A low molecular weight sub fraction derived from DLE, IMREG-1 has been shown to enhance cell-mediated immunity (22).

In vitro, cells of both murine recipients and humans treated for herpes zoster virus infection secrete gamma-interferon in response to transfer factors (2) (23). Studies have also suggested that production of transfer factors but not their immunologic activity is regulated by immune response genes (24).

Adverse Reactions
Dosage (OneMSK Only)
  1. Rozzo SJ, Kirkpatrick CH. Purification of transfer factors. Mol Immunol. Feb 1992;29(2):167-182.
  2. Estrada-Parra S, Nagaya A, Serrano E, et al. Comparative study of transfer factor and acyclovir in the treatment of herpes zoster. Int J Immunopharmacol. Oct 1998;20(10):521-535.
  3. Jose DG, Ford GW. Therapy with parent’s lymphocyte transfer factor in children with infection and malnutrition. Lancet. Feb 7 1976;1(7954):263-266.
  4. De Vinci C, Levine PH, Pizza G, et al. Lessons from a pilot study of transfer factor in chronic fatigue syndrome. Biotherapy. 1996;9(1-3):87-90.
  5. De Vinci C, Pizza G, Cuzzocrea D, et al. Use of transfer factor for the treatment of recurrent non-bacterial female cystitis (NBRC): a preliminary report. Biotherapy. 1996;9(1-3):133-138.
  6. Raise E, Guerra L, Viza D, et al. Preliminary results in HIV-1-infected patients treated with transfer factor (TF) and zidovudine (ZDV).Biotherapy. 1996;9(1-3):49-54.
  7. Ellis-Pegler R, Sutherland DC, Douglas R, Woodfield DG, Wilson JD. Transfer factor and hepatitis B: a double blind study.Clin Exp Immunol. May 1979;36(2):221-226.
  8. Fog T, Pedersen L, Raun NE, et al. Long-term transfer-factor treatment for multiple sclerosis. Lancet. Apr 22 1978;1(8069):851-853.
  9. Valdes Sanchez AF, Martin Rodriguez OL, Lastra Alfonso G. [Treatment of extrinsic bronchial asthma with transfer factor]. Rev Alerg Mex. Sep-Oct 1993;40(5):124-131.
  10. Stevens DA, Ferrington RA, Merigan TC, Marinkovich VA. Randomized trial of transfer factor treatment of human warts. Clin Exp Immunol. Sep 1975;21(3):520-524.
  11. Ashorn R, Uotila A, Kuokkanen K, Rasanen L, Karhumaki E, Krohn K. Cellular immunity in acne vulgaris during transfer factor treatment. Ann Clin Res. 1985;17(4):152-155.
  12. Miller LL, Spitler LE, Allen RE, Minor DR. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of transfer factor as adjuvant therapy for malignant melanoma.Cancer. Apr 15 1988;61(8):1543-1549.
  13. Goldenberg GJ, Brandes LJ, Lau WH, Miller AB, Wall C, Ho JH. Cooperative trial of immunotherapy for nasopharyngeal carcinoma with transfer factor from donors with Epstein-Barr virus antibody activity. Cancer Treat Rep. Jul-Aug 1985;69(7-8):761-767.
  14. Whyte RI, Schork MA, Sloan H, Orringer MB, Kirsh MM. Adjuvant treatment using transfer factor for bronchogenic carcinoma: long-term follow-up. Ann Thorac Surg. Mar 1992;53(3):391-396.
  15. Hancock BW, Bruce L, Sokol RJ, Clark A. Transfer factor in Hodgkin’s disease: a randomized clinical and immunological study. Eur J Cancer Clin Oncol. May 1988;24(5):929-933.
  16. Gilchrist GS, Ivins JC, Ritts RE, Jr., Pritchard DJ, Taylor WF, Edmonson JM. Adjuvant therapy for nonmetastatic osteogenic sarcoma: an evaluation of transfer factor versus combination chemotherapy. Cancer Treat Rep. Feb 1978;62(2):289-294.
  17. Thestrup-Pedersen K, Grunnet E, Zachariae H. Transfer factor therapy in mycosis fungoides: a double-blind study. Acta Derm Venereol. 1982;62(1):47-53.
  18. Fujisawa T, Yamaguchi Y, Kimura H, Arita M, Shiba M, Baba M. Randomized controlled trial of transfer factor immunochemotherapy as an adjunct to surgical treatment for primary adenocarcinoma of the lung. Jpn J Surg. Nov 1984;14(6):452-458.
  19. Wagner G, Knapp W, Gitsch E, Selander S. Transfer factor for adjuvant immunotherapy in cervical cancer. Cancer Detect Prev Suppl. 1987;1:373-376.
  20. Steele RW, Myers MG, Vincent MM. Transfer factor for the prevention of varicella-zoster infection in childhood leukemia. N Engl J Med. Aug 14 1980;303(7):355-359.
  21. Pineda B, Estrada-Parra S, Pedraza-Medina B, Rodriguez-Ropon A, Perez R, Arrieta O. Interstitial transfer factor as adjuvant immunotherapy for experimental glioma. J Exp Clin Cancer Res. Dec 2005;24(4):575-583.
  22. Sudhir K SR, Sizemore A, Gottleib A. Immunomodulatory components present in IMREG-1, an experimental immunosupportive biologic. Bio/Technology. 1988;6:810-815.
  23. Alvarez-Thull L, Kirkpatrick CH. Profiles of cytokine production in recipients of transfer factors. Biotherapy. 1996;9(1-3):55-59.
  24. Rozzo SJ, Merryman CF, Kirkpatrick CH. Murine transfer factor. IV. Studies with genetically regulated immune responses.Cell Immunol. Aug 1988;115(1):130-145.
  25. Kirkpatrick CH, Hamad AR, Morton LC. Murine transfer factors: dose-response relationships and routes of administration. Cell Immunol. Sep 1995;164(2):203-206.
  26. Fudenberg HH, Fudenberg HH. Transfer factor: past, present and future. Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 1989;29:475-516.
  27. Lloyd AR, Hickie I, Brockman A, et al. Immunologic and psychologic therapy for patients with chronic fatigue syndrome: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Am J Med Feb 1993;94(2):197-203.
  28. Høyeraal HM, Frøland SS, Salvesen CF. No effect of transfer factor in juvenile rheumatoid arthritis by double-blind trial. Ann Rheum Dis. 1978 Apr;37(2):175-9.
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