Jan. 6, 1994
Vol. 13, No. 9

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    Statement on plutonium experiments

    In response to inquiries about government-sponsored research on the effects of plutonium on humans nearly 50 years ago, the University has issued the following statement: In 1945, three terminally ill cancer patients at the University of Chicago's Billings Hospital were injected with a solution containing plutonium as part of a U.S. government research project involving 18 subjects. The project was designed to determine how quickly the body rids itself of plutonium. Its purpose was to develop safety criteria for the thousands of workers then handling plutonium.

    This research was made public by the Energy Research & Development Administration in 1976. Stories followed in the Washington Post and in Science in 1976. A scientific paper on the experiment, "Distribution and Excretion of Plutonium Administered Intravenously to Man," was published in Health Physics in June 1980.

    Two of the three patients who received injections at Chicago died of their cancer within five months, according to the 1976 report. The third patient, an 18-year-old male with Hodgkins disease, left the hospital against medical advice and was "lost to follow-up," according to the report.

    A follow-up study found no evidence that the plutonium injections affected the health of the subjects or their pre-existing illnesses.

    Research standards have changed drastically since 1945. Today, no research is or can be performed on any patients without their full knowledge and informed, written consent.