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Health Briefs


Mass. medical researchers receive grants from Big Tobacco

Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest cigarette maker, provided millions of dollars in grants to scientists at several Massachusetts universities to support research on diseases linked to smoking.The company said it does not interfere with the studies, and researchers are required to disclose the source of the funding.

Critics, however, insist that any link to tobacco companies compromises the work.

“Taking money from the tobacco industry to conduct scientific research is like the D.A. taking money from the Mafia to conduct investigations of crime,” said Gregory Connolly, former director of the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program.

David Sylvia, a spokesman for Philip Morris, said grants have been given to Boston University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts since 2000. They were among hundreds of projects underwritten worldwide.

He said the company placed an emphasis on research into tobacco-related illnesses.

“Obviously, cigarettes are a product that is addictive and cause serious disease,” Sylvia told The Boston Globe. “Our goal is to try to reduce the harm associated with cigarettes.”

Dr. Karen Antman, provost of Boston University Medical School, said in a statement that the institution has received nearly $4 million in research grants from Philip Morris over the past decade. BU’s student newspaper, The Daily Free Press, first reported the school’s acceptance of money from Philip Morris.

“We adhere to the highest ethical conduct in research and pursue funding from a variety of sources for unrestricted medical research,” Antman wrote.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School were told to stop applying for grants from tobacco companies in 2004, according to a statement from the university. Researchers with existing grants were allowed to complete their work.

A spokeswoman for UMass Medical School told the Globe the school does not currently have any tobacco-supported research. It received no more than $2 million, out of $1.3 billion in research funding, from cigarette makers in the last decade.

Dr. Jerome Kassirer, a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, said he does not believe tobacco companies would fund academic studies if they did not benefit in some way.

“If the motivation [of tobacco firms] is to try to show that their products are not as evil as they actually are, then I think researchers should not be doing that sort of thing,” said Kassirer, who added: “If the money is completely unrestricted, then it might be OK.”

Survey shows better knowledge of SIDS

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A new Health Department survey finds that a slightly larger percentage of new mothers know that a baby sleeping on its back is less susceptible to sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.

In 2007, 84.3 percent of new mothers surveyed by the Department of Health said their babies slept on their backs. That’s up from 80.8 percent in 2005.

The 2007 South Dakota Perinatal Risk Assessment surveyed almost 900 new mothers. The survey is taken every two years.

Research indicates that babies who sleep face-up are less likely to suffocate in their sleep and typically are less strained in their breathing, which reduces physical stress. Such stress in babies is thought to lead to SIDS.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in 1992 began recommending face-up sleeping for babies up to age 1.

Pediatrician Dr. Kara Bruning of McGreevy Clinic Avera said she thinks parents understand the risks involved when babies sleep on their sides or stomachs.

“I think the majority get the message that babies need to go to sleep on their backs,” Bruning said.

But there’s still work to be done, said Minnehaha County coroner Dr. Brad Randall.

“I personally don’t believe those figures,” said Randall, who’s also chairman of the Regional Infant and Child Mortality Review Committee. The committee was established in 1997 to identify and examine causes of death in children.

Randall said he fears parents surveyed might be telling researchers what they think they want to hear rather than the truth.

“I have no reason to believe they aren’t true; I’m just a little skeptical,” Randall said.

Bruning said she comes across parents who resist the advice.

“But I can’t go into their house and roll their baby over for them,” she said.

(Associated Press)