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Medical Center Plans to Followup on Inmates Injected With Cancer

August 15, 1985 GMT

CINCINNATI (AP) _ A New York medical center is attempting to find out what happened to more than 200 Ohio prison inmates who were injected with cancer cells in a research project that ended 23 years ago.

At the request of Rep. Willis D. Gradison, R-Ohio, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center officials have begun a preliminary study to obtain state vital statistics about the men. Suzanne Rauffenbart, a Sloan-Kettering vice president, said she expects it to be complete and sent to Gradison by the end of September.

The physician who directed the 12-year research project, Dr. Chester M. Southam, said that he has no evidence of a higher-than-normal cancer rate among the onetime inmates and that a follow-up could show whether the men were immunized against cancer.

″I think it would be of great value in cancer research, to satisfy the question of whether there is any cancer recurrence in these people,″ Southam said.

″By no means, have any unusual number of these men developed cancer, or if they have, they haven’t come forward,″ he said.

Southam, 66, now in private practice in Philadelphia, directed the 12-year study for Sloan-Kettering. He estimated the center received $300,000 to $500,000 in federal National Cancer Institute funds for it. The American Cancer Society also helped pay for the project, he said.

Ms. Rauffenbart said her institute has identified only 156 prisoners as having participated in the research and that she does not know whether Sloan- Kettering has made any effort to directly contact the men. The institute’s officials said they will keep the men’s names confidential.

Gradison, through a spokeswoman, declined comment on Sloan-Kettering’s response until he receives the report.

Dr. Arthur James of Columbus, an Ohio State University cancer specialist who analyzed tissue samples from the injected inmates, said the researchers hoped ″to see if (cancer cells) would grow and to see if the cells would be rejected.″

″They didn’t know at the time whether cancer could be transmitted from one person to another,″ James said Thursday.

A man who was among the final group of 20 prisoners to be injected with cancer in July 1962 said he has traced seven men who were injected with him.

The 63-year-old former prisoner, who spoke only on condition that he not be identified, said two have died from heart ailments and the others, like him, are cancer-free.

Southam, in his work at the prison, invited the inmates to stay in touch with the researchers and to send word if they got cancer.

Some have continued to send him letters. He said he knows of only ″four, possibly five″ of the more than 200 who have contracted cancer, which he said is less than the general population’s cancer rate.

In the late 1960s, Southam, then based in New York, was one of two physicians placed on a year’s probation by the New York State Board of Regents for injecting cancer cells into non-cancer patients without informing them.

″We didn’t always use the words ’cancer cells,‴ Southam said. ″We felt that our people were aware of what we were doing.″

Southam said he decided to experiment with the response of healthy people to cancer injections after he injected cancerous cells into cancer patients at Sloan-Kettering’s Memorial Hospital in the 1950s.

All of the prisoners’ bodies fought off the cancer cell injections, most within 14 days of receiving the injections, but the cancer patients took three weeks and longer for their bodies to reject the injected cells, Southam said.