An investigation has been launched into meetings between the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism staff and alcohol companies to discuss funding a study to assess the benefits of moderate drinking.
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The National Institutes of Health will determine if NIAAA staff violated federal policy against soliciting donations, and a panel of outside experts will review the design and scientific methodology of the 10-year government study that has already started, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said Tuesday, The New York Times reported.
The NIAAA is part of the NIH. Five large beer and liquor makers promised to provide $67.7 million of the $100 million cost of the study, and their donations are being made through the Foundation for the NIH.
The companies are: Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Carlsberg, Diageo and Pernod Ricard.
The NIH announcement comes a few days after The Times revealed that NIAAA scientists and officials met with alcohol industry groups several times in 2013 and 2014.
"I believe the scientific goals of the Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health Trial are worth pursuing," and a number of measures are in place to ensure the integrity of the study, Collins said in a statement, The Times reported.
However, he added that he was "concerned" about the meetings between the NIAAA staff and alcohol companies before the Foundation for the NIH became involved. The foundation is a nongovernmental foundation authorized to raise private money for research.
"While N.I.H. officials and scientists routinely discuss and present information on proposed collaborations with outside scientists and other members of the public, NIH policy prohibits employees from soliciting donations of funds or other resources to the NIH or any of its components," Collins said, the Times reported.
Some observational studies have suggested that moderate drinking may offer some health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease. The new study is the first large, long-term randomized clinical trial to investigate if moderate drinking can reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke, and also type 2 diabetes and mental decline.
The trial seeks to recruit 7,800 people worldwide. Half will be told to avoid alcohol while the other half will be told to have one serving of any type of alcohol a day. The health of the participants will be tracked for an average of six years, The Times reported.
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