Hopkins continues study amid criticisms

By ALYSSA WOODEN | April 12, 2018

Researchers at Hopkins Medicine will continue a study investigating possible health benefits of alcohol, despite criticisms that arose after a New York Times article reported that the study is funded by alcohol companies.

The study has received over $65 million from Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Carlsberg, five of the world’s largest alcohol manufacturers. The money was donated to a private foundation that fundraises for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

The study, called the Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health Trial (MACH 15), includes 15 other participating institutions in addition to Hopkins.

Critics of the study are skeptical as to whether research sponsored by the alcohol industry will be biased in favor of the sponsoring companies, even if the researchers do not believe themselves to be under any external influence.

Hopkins Medicine officials claimed in a statement that they were not influenced by the alcohol industry, according to the Baltimore Sun. They cited policies prohibiting interactions with companies that may pose a conflict of interest.

“The multi-center study’s design was rigorously vetted through internal and external scientific review boards without any involvement from private industry,” the statement read.

The Times also noted that other researchers involved in the study may have additional ties to the alcohol industry. Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) George Koob previously received research grants from a foundation funded by alcohol manufacturers.

Koob, however, claimed in the Times article that the trial would be and free from any conflicts of interest.

After recruiting about 7,800 participants, MACH 15 will randomly place them into two groups. One will drink only one alcoholic beverage a day and the other will drink no alcohol for six years. The study aims to assess whether drinking one alcoholic beverage per day decreases the chance of developing heart disease. To be eligible, participants must be at risk for heart disease.

Critics have also pointed out that although observational studies have found that moderate drinkers have less heart disease than those who do not drink at all, this may not be a result of drinking. Furthermore, research has connected moderate drinking with other problems such as breast cancer.

The study will be conducted at the Hopkins ProHealth Clinical Research Center in Baltimore.

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