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Editorial Snapshot: Ethical concerns force end to major public health research project

- G.A., Senior Editor

Early in the summer of 2018, details regarding the end of a major public health research project headed by researchers in the United States were revealed in the mainstream media. The reports attracted significant attention due to appearance that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had partnered with alcohol manufacturers including Anheuser Busch and Carlsberg to conduct an alcohol-related study.

An internal investigation by the NIH identified major concerns about the integrity and scientific validity of the ongoing clinical trial that aimed to investigate the health effects of the regular consumption of moderate levels of alcohol. Furthermore, concerns were raised in the media that funding had been solicited from alcohol manufacturers with the implication that the results would be beneficial to them.

As a result of the investigation, the NIH announced the discontinuation of the short-lived study and vowed to conduct a thorough review of processes and practices to prevent employee solicitation of external funding and prevent potential inappropriate influence on NIH research programs by external organizations.

While corporations will most certainly remain important sources of funding for academic research, it is essential that steps be taken to ensure that the researchers remain impartial and corporations are not able to influence the studies themselves. This case involving the NIH in the United States should be seen as a warning to research and funding agencies around the world to take the necessary steps to protect the integrity of the studies they produce.

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