Yusef Anthony thought participating in a Penn-conducted study on Johnson & Johnson bubble bath would be a safe way to earn easy money.
And so during his first week as an inmate in Philadelphia's Holmesburg Prison, Anthony was led into a cellblock-turned-laboratory. There, an inmate in a lab coat peeled off patches of skin from his back and sprayed chemicals on the open wounds.
Pus-filled blisters formed overnight, and his black skin turned "strawberry" red. After several days of excruciating pain, he was taken off the test.
He earned $37.
But the medical and psychological side effects of this and other tests continue to cost him, more than 40 years later.
The experiment was one of thousands Penn conducted under the direction of dermatologist and professor emeritus Albert Kligman in Holmesburg Prison from 1951 to 1974.
The controversy, for which the University and Kligman continue to deny wrongdoing, has been stirred up yet again with the recent release of Sentenced to Science by Temple University urban studies professor Allen Hornblum, which details Anthony's experiences and ongoing struggle.
According to Hornblum, the inmates - some of whom signed waivers, though most were virtually illiterate- were exposed- to infectious diseases, radioactive isotopes, psychotropic drugs and other dangerous chemicals for skin-related research.
Some of the studies led to the development of anti-wrinkle cream Retin-A and have made Penn and Kligman millions.
"These were Frankenstein-style practices going on," Anthony said. "Crimes against humanity."
Today, the 64-year-old sees a doctor at least once a month. Peeling an orange causes itching and irritation that only scalding hot water can relieve.
His hands used to swell to the size of boxing gloves, and his size 10 feet would barely fit a size 14 shoe. Brittle bones, fatigue and severe stomach problems also plague him.
The University acknowledges that the prison studies took place but still stand by Kligman.
"In the 1950s and 1960s, the use of willing, compensated prisoners for biomedical research was a commonly accepted practice by this nation's scientists," University officials wrote in a statement.
The statement focuses on the "strict rules and regulations" in place today and invites former inmates with long-term harm from the experiments to contact the University for a free medical evaluation.
Medical School spokesman Marc Kaplan did not offer further comment.
In 2000, Anthony and nearly three hundred former Holmesburg inmates sued Kligman, Penn, the city of Philadelphia and two of the pharmaceutical companies involved, but the case was thrown out two years later because the statute of limitations had run out.
Meanwhile, dermatologist Bernard Ackerman said Kligman, now 91, has stopped giving interviews, but he continues to conduct research. His portrait hangs prominently in the dermatology department's reception room.
"Kligman was and is an intelligent man. He is not a dope. He knew what he was doing," said Ackerman, who did his second year of residency under Kligman in the 1960s. "He doesn't feel one iota of shame."
"He loved to say we've got acres of skin at Holmesburg prison," added Ackerman, who researched dandruff in the prison and left Penn after a year of residency. He is one of the only Penn researchers to speak out against the University's practices in Holmesburg.
But inmates were just the tip of the iceberg, Ackerman said. Penn also tested on retarded children and the elderly.
He and other critics say that the research was a direct violation of the Nuremberg Code, which was created after World War II in response to the inhumane experimentation on Jews in Nazi Germany.
"Ethics tend to keep you away from the goal," Hornblum said. "The goal is to make money."Comments powered by Disqus
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