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Cigarette companies underwrite research to put a better face on lung cancer

  Back in October of 2006, Dr. Claudia Henschke of Weill Cornell Medical College stunned the medical community with research and speculation suggesting that early CT scan screening could prevent eighty percent of lung cancer deaths.  Turns out, a tobacco company paid for the research.

  Many health care experts were curious about  the conclusions reached by Dr. Henschke, since she assumed that all of the lung cancer cases who weren't detected early would have died, and she made other assumptions that did not seem to be supported by the evidence.  Those cautionary concerns appeared to be borne out when it was disclosed that the little-know Foundation that underwrote the research was underwritten "almost entirely" by  $3.6 million dollars from the Liggett Group, a cigarette manufacturer.   Most health care researchers will not accept research funding from tobacco companies, and strict ethical guidelines require the full disclosure of research funding sources:  it has been proven on multiple occasions that research is usually skewed to some degree toward the outcomes desired by a funding source.

     Lung cancer kills about 160,000 people each year; far and away the most fatal of cancers among Americans.  In addition to their criticism of Henschke's assumption that all unscreened patients would have died, they also questioned her assumption that those living after 3 years would show an eighty percent survival rate after 10 years. Since this study was published critics have also drawn attention to patents that the doctor and her partner have filed related to CT technology, and a legislative funding initiative in New York State that would have benefitted her treatment facility directly--but not by name.  University employers are usually relied upon heavily to assure that physicians disclose any financial conflict of interest; in this case Weill Cornell shared in potential patent proceeds and administrators served on the charitable foundation board that funneled grant money from tobacco interests to the doctors/faculty members/facility.

    One commentator noted that creating captive foundations to recieve, transmit, and obscure funding is becoming a major problem in medical research, with three examples having come to light in the past month.   Has the world just recently  become greedier--say in the past two decades--or is that just our mistaken perception?  It seems like on a daily basis in this country long-standing ethical barriers collapse under the pressure of an executive, legislator, doctor or corporation who is looking to lug home a suitcase full of money.

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