The study came to light recently when Wellesley College researcher Susan Reverby found the archived but unpublished notes from the project.
The scientific investigation, called the U.S. Public Health Service Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study of 1946-1948, aimed to gauge the effectiveness of penicillin to treat syphilis, gonorrhea and chancres. Penicillin was a relatively new drug at the time.
The tests were carried out on female commercial sex workers, prisoners in the national penitentiary, patients in the national mental hospital and soldiers. According to the study, more than 1,600 people were infected: 696 with syphilis, 772 with gonorrhea and 142 with chancres.
A similar study was conducted between 1932 and 1972 in Tuskegee, Alabama, on nearly 400 poor African-American men with syphilis whose disease was allowed to progress without treatment. The subjects were not told they were ill with the disease.
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