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A group of former research subjects gathers outside the College of Physicians yesterday to protest the research of Professor Albert Kligman, who was scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award. [Ryan Jones/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

(See below for correction.)

Almost 30 skeletons in Penn's closet marched along 22nd Street outside of the College of Physicians last night, protesting the college's presentation of a lifetime achievement award to Professor Emeritus Albert Kligman.

Kligman was honored for his contributions to the field of dermatology. Perhaps most notably over the course of his career, Kligman developed Retin-A, a strong and effective anti-acne cream.

However, the protesters -- who call themselves "The Holmesburg Survivors" -- claim that experiments Kligman performed in order to test new drugs on inmates at Northeast Philadelphia's Holmesburg Prison and on the elderly at Riverview Home, among others, were unethical.

Kligman could not be reached for comment yesterday, and Dick Levinson, director of public relations for the College of Physicians would not comment, saying only that Kligman was being honored for his contributions to the field of dermatology.

From 1951 to 1974, pharmaceutical companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Dow Chemical Company commissioned Kligman to test new products.

A group of nearly 300 prisoners in 2000 filed suit against Kligman, the University, the city and the pharmaceutical companies, but the case was later thrown out by the court. However, members of the City Council have also been investigating the issue, and last fall subpoenaed the University for information about the tests conducted at Holmesburg.

He experimented on "thousands of us," ex-inmate and Philadelphia resident Anthony Edwards said. He said that Kligman experimented on him and other inmates, the elderly and even retarded children, viewing them all as a "fertile field of skin."

Kligman and his associates at Penn "just used us," Edwards said. "They coerced us -- 85 percent were black and functional illiterate -- to believe that tests were safe.... He owes us a debt."

The "Survivors," Professor Allen Hornblum of Temple University -- who authored Acres of Skin, a 1998 expos‚ on Kligman's experiments -- Temple University students and other supporters planned to "present [Kligman] with our own Joseph Mengele Award for using and misusing people... as a means to an end," Hornblum said.

Joseph Mengele was a medical doctor at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp during the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. He performed medical experiments on Jews and is commonly known as the "Angel of Death."

The certificate the protesters made read, "Albert Montgomery Kligman used retarded children, senior citizens and prison inmates as unwitting subjects for several decades.... We, the experimentation survivors present [this award] for his consistent, steady and unrelenting abuse of man."

The "Survivors" claim to still be suffering from the after-effects of Kligman's experiments.

Edwards was involved in a test for Johnson & Johnson bubble bath in which experimenters took the "first layer of skin off my back to see if a chemical in the bubble bath would irritate open wounds," he said.

As a result, "I broke out from head to foot," he said.

Today, "I have no calcium in my neck, my shoulders," Edwards said.

Inmates were compensated as promised -- usually less than $100, the protesters said. But Edwards said Kligman "experimented on people who [were] totally incoherent," which should have negated any consent they gave.

Those entering the building on 22nd Street for the ceremony appeared generally bewildered at the sight of the protesters.

When asked what he thought of Kligman's actions, one man said, "I'm not a doctor. I could care less," but would not stop to give his name.

One attendant said, "Dr. Kligman saved lives. You hear that?" as he walked through the protesters.

A member of the College of Physicians who would not provide his name said that Kligman "made scientific contributions but the major problem... is he has never been repentant."

"Retrospectively, he never acknowledged" the unethical nature of his experiments, he said.

Most, however, ignored the bullhorns, signs and protesters, refusing to comment on Kligman, the award or the protesters' accusations. A few stopped to ask questions, and one man gave his name and number to a survivor, offering to talk one-on-one at a later time.

The president of the college came out to speak to the protesters and said Kligman was being honored for his "contributions to dermatology," said Hornblum.

"He did not give us a chance to respond."

Still, the protest seemed to affect some attendees. Hornblum said Professor Marc Ackerman at the Dental School told him last night he would be resigning his membership in the College of Physicians today.

"Penn is paying the price now in public commentary for hooking themselves up to Kligman's star," Hornblum said.

The protest shows how "Doctor Kligman and the University of Pennsylvania will continue to pay the price for the moral outrages that they initiated in the field of medicine," he said. "They should be teaching this stuff at the Medical School rather than running from it."

According to Hornblum, following the publication of his book, Kligman stated that he had "carried out research medicine as he thought it was to be practiced at that time" and refused to recognize the long-term effects of his experiments.

Also at that time, the University made an offer to provide free medical services to ex-inmates who continued to suffer the after-effects of Kligman's tests.

"It's a real concern that the University of Pennsylvania won't express regret... and say they disapprove of" Kligman, said Robert Helms, a Philadelphia resident who compiled an online journal about the "life, history and concerns of human guinea pigs."

"I think [Penn and the college] are sorry now," Hornblum said. "No one wants to face old, beat up, African-American men who were used as guinea pigs. Kligman is a black mark" on these institutions' otherwise respectable images.


This article notes that Dental Professor Marc Ackerman is to resign from the College of Physicians. In fact, it is Ackerman's father, James Ackerman, who is to resign.
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