The US Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee was conducted over 40 years (1932-1972) to observe the outcomes of untreated syphilis. It took place in Tuskegee, Alabama. At the beginning of the study, there were no proven treatments for syphilis and participants were told they were being treated for “bad blood.”
A total of 600 men were enrolled in the study, 399 with syphilis, and 201 who did not have the disease. In 1943, penicillin became the standard of treatment for the disease, but this treatment was withheld as part of the treatment for the experimental group and control group.
Men died, and their wives and children and others were infected. Jean Heller, a journalist, published a story about the research study which brought attention to the unethical nature of the study.
An advisory panel was formed in response to the report and concluded that the research study was “ethically unjustified.” After the study, sweeping changes to research practices were made.
The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research was created and studies involving human subjects must be reviewed by institutional review boards (IRB).
Read more about the US Syphilis Study and other harmful research practices that occurred in vulnerable communities: