Chester Southam: Human Experimentation with Live Cancer Cells

Chester M. Southam was an immunologist and oncologist who was caught injecting people with live cancer cells from the 1950s to 1960s. His reasoning behind injecting patients with cancer was to see if the patients' immune systems would reject the cancer cells or if they would grow. Afterward, he went on to become the American Association for Cancer Research president.

Southam experimented on patients in his care, the elderly, and prisoners. They were unaware that they were being injected with cancer cells and never consented to the experiment.

In addition to injecting subjects with cancer cells, he also injected cancer patients in Africa with various viruses, including mumps, dengue, West Nile, and Semliki Forest. He was applauded for his revolutionary work and written about in the New York Times on more than one occasion.

A 2013 New York Post article titled "NYC's Forgotten Cancer Scandal," reads, "Such deceptive practices were not unusual during the Cold War era. The concept of informed consent was still in its infancy, the Nuremberg Code was regularly circumvented and researchers and hospital personnel understood the penalty for opposing or speaking out about a piece of questionable research."

Eventually, he was reported by three brave doctors and found guilty of fraud, deceit, and unprofessional conduct. For this, Southam was placed on probation for one year. He was never prosecuted.

When asked about injecting cancer cells into patients and why he did not test on himself, Southam stated, "I did not regard the experiment as dangerous. But, let's face it, there are relatively few skilled cancer researchers, and it seemed stupid to take even the little risk."


"NYC’s forgotten cancer scandal"
New York Post

"Human Experimentation: Cancer Studies at Sloan-Kettering Stir Public Debate on Medical Ethics"
by Elinor Langer

"Tuskegee syphilis study not America's only medical scandal:
Chester M. Southam, MD, Henrietta Lacks, and the Sloan-Kettering
research scandal"
by Leonard F. Vernon

New York Times

"14 Convicts Injected With Live Cancer Cells"
New York Times

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