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Johns Hopkins to continue with international alcohol study despite criticism about funding

Johns Hopkins researchers are moving forward with an international study that will look at whether one drink of alcohol a day can decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes despite criticism that it is funded by the liquor industry.

A New York Times investigation found that the 10-year government trial is funded mostly by Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken and other alcohol companies through donations to a private foundation that raises money for the National Institutes of Health.

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The story reported that investigators from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one of 27 centers under the NIH, “waged a vigorous campaign to court the alcohol industry, paying for scientists to travel to meetings with executives, where they gave talks strongly suggesting that the study’s results would endorse moderate drinking as healthy.”

It raises the question of whether the research may be inherently biased because of how it’s being funded.

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Johns Hopkins Medicine officials said in a statement that the medical institution has policies against interacting with industry and other parties that may pose a financial conflict of interest in research. The policies are intended to safeguard public trust and comply with government regulations.

“The grant funding came directly to Johns Hopkins from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to conduct independent research examining whether moderate alcohol consumption impacts human health,” the statement said. “The multi-center study’s design was rigorously vetted through internal and external scientific review boards without any involvement from private industry. The resulting findings will provide much needed data to address the study question.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine is one of 16 institutions participating in The Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health Trial, or MACH 15, according to a website and recruiting brochure the medical institution mailed to potential participants. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the University of Copenhagen are among the other institutes.

In Baltimore, the research will be done through the Johns Hopkins ProHealth Clinical Research Center on Gwynn Oak Avenue in Baltimore.

Scientists are examining use of an existing drug to treat people who suffer from alcoholism and PTSD, acknowledging that mental health and addiction are commonly linked.

Researchers have begun recruiting candidates for the $100 million study who must be at least 50 years old and occasional drinkers, according to a brochure. Participants must have had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. Or they must have had a heart attack, stroke or stent for a clogged artery.

Participants who will be in the study for five to six years will be placed randomly into one of two groups. One group will drink one alcoholic beverage a day. The other will only drink on special occasions.

Many observational studies have found that moderate drinkers have less heart disease and outlive those who don’t drink at all. The MACH15 study is looking at whether moderate drinking is why these people have better health outcomes.

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