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Corporations are funding health research: Here’s why you should be worried

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For the health-conscious consumer, it’s hard to keep up with the dizzying array of products on offer. Consumers want unbiased information to help them make the right choices, and industry says it is listening and working with health researchers to provide better and more nutritionally sound products. For academia, this can translate to serious funding opportunities.


Researchers and academics are increasingly being encouraged – even required – to get research funding from different sources, including industry and nonprofit organisations funded by industry. Generating income has become as important as the quality of academic output in hiring, retaining and even firing academic and research staff. In public health and nutrition, however, industry money remains the subject of fiery debate.


Some see industry as a necessary source of research support. From this perspective, these partnerships give scientists a say in the research, allowing them to improve health and well-being by collaborating with industry.


Corporate funding can pay for staff, conduct of studies, travel, publication charges and other research-related activities. These researchers say that we can better judge influence with clear conflict of interest statements that reveal the nature of their relationship with industry.


Meanwhile, multinational corporations say they remain committed to principles that protect the public interest. After all, it is in their financial interest to do so. This thinking directs how they fund researchers. For example, The Coca-Cola Company has pledged transparency, openness and commitments on social responsibility and research, stating that:


In no event does The Coca-Cola Company have the right to prevent publication of research results. Nor does The Coca-Cola Company provide funding conditioned on the outcome of the research.


We sought to find out to what extent this was borne out in practice, questioning whether it funds research and allows publication, even if the findings could harm its interests and profits. Can industry money really bring all these benefits while simple conflict of interest statements negate any influence?


What industry funding means for research


Our research suggests that it isn’t that simple. We recently obtained Coca-Cola research agreements and email correspondence through freedom of information requests made by US Right to Know. We analysed five research agreements in an article recently published in the Journal of Public Health Policy. While contracts show that Coca-Cola does not control day-to-day conduct, it retains various rights throughout the process.


We found provisions in research funding agreements that could allow Coca-Cola to stop the research it funds at public universities in the US and Canada. Several clauses in legal documents give Coca-Cola the right to receive updates and comment on findings before research is published, and the power to terminate studies early without reason. Coca-Cola then holds rights regarding all the data and research, thereby potentially allowing it to deprive the public of this study data where the data is at odds with its commercial interests.


While these provisions mean some unfavourable results might not see the light of day, what about the studies we do see?


Research suggests industry money does bias results and produce troubling conflicts of interest. We know that while the studies may report no influence by the funder, they may get to comment on study design, presentation of results and even acknowledgement of funding itself.


In 2015, the New York Times revealed that Coca-Cola sponsored researchers whose studies played down the link between diet and obesity. Likewise, the Associated Press revealed how a food industry trade association funded and influenced studies which concluded that children who eat sweets have healthier body weights than those who do not.


Many experts in nutrition and public health suggest that the food industry is copying tactics from tobacco companies. Corporations can now determine our health.


More transparency


To fix this problem, corporate social responsibility needs to be more than just shiny websites stating progressive policies that get ignored. And journals should require authors to disclosure research agreements with corporate funders so that readers can assess their influence on researchers and their work.


We would also like to see a registry of all industry-funded studies that have been terminated. The lack of information on industry input and studies terminated before results are published makes it impossible to know how much of the research entering the public domain reflects corporate positions. The research agreements we analysed suggest that if Coca-Cola wanted, it has the power to bury research that detracts from its image or profits.


The Conversation asked Coca Cola to respond and it said that since 2016 it had not independently funded research on issues related to health and well-being “in keeping with research guiding principles that have been posted publicly on our website since that time”. The company said it had adopted these guidelines to address questions that arose when it was the sole funder of similar research.

The Conversation logo


It said that a list of health and well-being research funded by The Coca-Cola Company dating back to 2010 had been made available on its website for nearly four years. It stressed that any research it had funded and disclosed on its site was conducted “in accordance with our publicly stated approach to funding scientific research, including the fact that we do not have the right to prevent the publication of research results nor do we provide funding conditioned on the outcome of the research”.


But there remain concerns that – with the power to trumpet positive findings and bury negative ones – some big corporations could use funded science as an exercise in public relations. It’s time we begin holding these powerful multinational  corporations to account for their impacts on our health.



Sarah Steele, Senior Research Associate, University of Cambridge and Lejla Sarcevic, Forum Senior Research Associate, University of Cambridge


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation



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Medtronic says won’t recall pacemakers after drug regulator issues alert

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Medtronic India has said it is not recalling its pacemaker models in the country and is in discussion with relevant stakeholders following an alert issued by drug regulator Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) over the performance of pacemakers.


CDSCO has alerted patients with implants of three Medtronic pacemaker models to seek immediate medical care if they feel certain symptoms that could be signs of the devices’ sudden battery depletion.


Medtronic sells in India, Astra pacemaker, Solara CRT-P and Serena CRT-P.


“We have and continue to communicate proactively with the doctors and relevant stakeholders in India and have informed them about the performance note. There have been no patient issues reported in India related to this performance note,” the statement by the company said.


Stressing that it was “not a case of product recall”, Medtronic India said, “We are in proactive discussion with CDSCO”.


Medtronic has published a performance note about a rare mode in a population of Azure and Astra pacemakers and Percepta, Serena and Solara cardiac resynchronization therapy pacemakers.


“We have received three complaints out of 266,700 devices distributed worldwide since February 2017. The projected rate of occurrence for this issue is 0.0028 per cent, with the most susceptible period being the first 12 months after a device is implanted,” the statement said.


In consultation with company’s independent physician quality panel, “We do not recommend device replacement, and advise physicians to continue normal patient follow-up in accordance with standard practice and, where possible, to continue with remote monitoring,” it added.


“While the devices continue to perform well within reliability projections, Medtronic has implemented additional process and component enhancements that have been reviewed and approved by Food and Drug Administration,” the statement said.


The CDSCO has asked patients with any of the three models to seek immediate medical care if they feel light-headed, dizzy or experience chest pain and loss of consciousness.


The alert by the regulator came after the US Food and Drug Administration raised alarm over the use of the pacemaker models Astra, Serena and Solara.


In its alert on May 7, the USFDA cited a case in which a Medtronic implantable pacemaker or CRT-P battery had fully drained because of a crack in the device’s capacitor, without any warning to the patient or health care provider.


Medtronic’s implantable pacemakers or cardiac resynchronization therapy pacemaker (CRT-Ps) are devices that provide pacing for slow heart rhythms and heart failure pacemakers and CRT-Ps are both implanted under the skin in the upper chest area with connecting insulated wires called leads that go into the heart.


As per the alert by CDSCO, doctors have been recommended to be alert and consider whether elective device replacement is warranted for a pacemaker patient.


“Be aware of sudden battery level drops during follow-up visits and remote transmissions. Watch for decrease in battery level out of proportion to the life of the device from the time of implant even if the level remains within the normal range,” the alert stated.



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Health

India’s drug regulator warns patients against faulty Medtronic pacemakers

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The Indian drug regulator has alerted patients with implants of three Medtronic pacemaker models to seek immediate medical care if they feel light-headed, dizzy or experience chest pain and loss of consciousness, saying these could be signs of the devices’ sudden battery depletion.


The alert by Central Drug Standards Control Organisation (CDSCO) came after the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) raised alarm over the use of the pacemaker models Astra, Serena and Solara.


In its alert on May 7, the USFDA cited a case in which a Medtronic implantable pacemaker or CRT-P battery had fully drained because of a crack in the device’s capacitor, without any warning to the patient or health care provider.


If a capacitor in a CRT-P is cracked, it can create an electric short, which can cause the battery to drain earlier than expected.


Medtronic’s implantable pacemakers or cardiac resynchronization therapy pacemakers (CRT-Ps) are devices that provide pacing for slow heart rhythms and heart failure pacemakers and CRT-Ps are both implanted under the skin in the upper chest area with connecting insulated wires called leads that go into the heart.


India’s CDSCO has advised patients to seek immediate medical assistance if they feel dizzy, light-headed, severe short breath or loss of consciousness.


“These may be signs that your device’s battery has had a sudden drop or has drained,” it said.


Doctors have been recommended to be alert and consider whether elective device replacement is warranted for a pacemaker patient.


“Be aware of sudden battery level drops during follow-up visits and remote transmissions. Watch for decrease in battery level out of proportion to the life of the device from the time of implant even if the level remains within the normal range,” the alert stated.


Medtronic reported that healthcare providers were unable to communicate with the device due to battery depletion resulting in loss of pacemaker function. It also reported these events occurred in the US within one year after the patient was implanted with the pacemaker or CRT-P.


One of the reported events resulted in the death of a pacemaker-dependent patient.


In another reported incident, the patient experienced dizziness during follow-up and the healthcare provider was unable to communicate with the device, which resulted in the patient getting their device replaced.


In the third event, there was no harm to the patient because the device was not implanted when the healthcare provider became aware that a connection with the device could not be established.



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Health

Specialised microscope can diagnose skin cancer, perform surgeries: Study

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Scientists have developed a specialised microscope that has the potential to diagnose diseases like skin cancer as well as perform precise surgery without making any incisions in the skin.


According to the study published in the journal Science Advances, the microscope allows medical professionals to pinpoint the exact location of an abnormality, diagnose it and treat it instantly.



“Our technology allows us to scan tissue quickly, and when we see a suspicious or abnormal cell structure, we can perform ultra-precise surgery and selectively treat the unwanted or diseased structure within the tissue — without cutting into the skin,” said Yimei Huang from the University of British Columbia in Canada.


It could be used to treat any structure of the body that can be reached by light and requires extremely precise treatment, including nerves or blood vessels in the skin, eye, brain or other vital structures, researchers said.


“For diagnosing and scanning diseases like skin cancer, this could be revolutionary,” said Harvey Lui, professor at the University of British Columbia.


The study shows that the device allows imaging of living tissue up to about one millimetre in depth using an ultrafast infrared laser beam.


Researchers said that this microscope, however, is different from previous technology due to its capability to not only digitally scan living tissue, but also treat the tissue by intensifying the heat produced by the laser.


“We can alter the pathway of blood vessels without impacting any of the surrounding vessels or tissues,” said Lui.


The researchers also said that their aim is to make multiphoton microscope technology more versatile while also increasing its precision.


“We wanted to be able to identify what was happening under the skin from many different angles and to have the capability of imaging different body sites,” said Haishan Zeng from the University of British Columbia.


Developments of a miniature version of the telescope that could be used to perform microscopic examinations and treatment during endoscopy are also underway, researchers said.


“We are not only the first to achieve fast video-rate imaging that enables clinical applications, but also the first to develop this technology for therapeutic uses,” said Zeng.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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