24 January 2003
Funding Can Taint Findings
editorial draws attention to the impact of vested interests on medical
research. It focuses on medical research, where most attention has
been paid, but fails to note that the problem it describes is even
more severe in research examining the health risks of chemical exposures.]
month, a study by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute showed
that diuretics were better at alleviating high blood pressure than
newer, far more expensive drugs such as calcium channel blockers.
It took a federally funded study, after years of studies lauding
channel blockers, to uncover that. A New England Journal of Medicine
review of those favorable studies found that 96% of the researchers
received money from the drugs' makers. The folks footing the bill
for scientific research too often get exactly what they want. With
industry supplying nearly two-thirds of the medical research money
in the United States, that means more studies that boost industry
in ways both subtle and blatant.
new Yale University study finds that when businesses, rather than
other groups, sponsor medical research at hospitals and colleges,
the outcomes are 3.6 times more likely to favor the company involved.
The Yale study -- not funded by business -- puts together an unlovely
picture of what happens when researchers have financial ties to
the subject of their research.
correlation between funding and findings makes it easy to understand
why consumer groups greeted with skepticism a study this week from
the American Assn. of Neurological Surgeons that found no link between
roller coasters and brain injury. The study's sponsor was Six Flags,
owner of the ever-more-turbulent rides at Magic Mountain and other
rush for business dollars -- once anathema to academic and medical
researchers -- extends far beyond medicine.
is putting $100 million into the new Global Climate and Energy Project
at Stanford University. The project's agenda is developing ways
to combat the atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gases from
fossil fuels. But ExxonMobil and other sponsoring companies have
the authority to approve the research topics, and the oil giant
is no fan of renewable energy or limits on carbon dioxide emissions.
A company official said Stanford was chosen in part because it is
known for working with business and because the professors were
open to changing their career directions to join the project.
spending on medical research has doubled in the last five years
but cannot keep up with corporations intent on buying academic credibility.
Researchers can raise the bar by setting standards and urging companies
to fund studies through independent foundations.
and the popular media should ask for, and prominently publish, funding
sources and amounts whenever they report on new research. The forces
shaping science also shape public policy and medical practice.