The experiments were led by United States Public Health Service physician John Charles Cutler, who had earlier participated in the similar Terre Haute prison experiments, in which volunteer prisoners were infected with gonorrhea.:13 In archived documents, Dr. Thomas Parran, Jr., the U.S. Surgeon General at the time of the experiments, acknowledged that the Guatemalan work could not be done domestically, and details were hidden from Guatemalan officials.
The experiments were funded by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the Pan American Sanitary Bureau and involved multiple Guatemalan government ministries. A total of about 1500 study subjects were involved although the findings were never published.
Cutler later took part in the late stages of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. While the Tuskegee experiment followed the natural progression of syphilis in those already infected, in Guatemala doctors deliberately infected healthy people with the diseases, some of which can be fatal if untreated. The goal of the study seems to have been to determine the effect of penicillin in the prevention and treatment of venereal diseases. The researchers paid prostitutes infected with syphilis to have sex with prisoners and some subjects were infected by directly inoculating them with the bacterium. Through intentional exposure to gonorrhea, syphilis, and chancroid, a total of 1,308 people were involved in the experiments. Of that group, with an age range of 10-72, 678 individuals (52%) can be said to have received a form of treatment.:41
The study appears to have ended in 1948, partly because of medical “gossip” about the work, and partly because penicillin was very costly. However, some follow-up laboratory testing and patient observation continued until the early 1950s.