Tanning Bed Research Funded by Industry GroupApr 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
In a climate where taking money from the medical device industry is being met with increased rancor and where questions over potential conflicts have been growing at medical journals, a Boston University researcher who wrote a piece in the New England Journal of Medicine is under fire. Dr. Michael Holick conducted some work and wrote on a recommendation on the moderate use of tanning beds for treatment or to avoid vitamin-D deficiency. Holick received research monies from an organization funded and controlled by the tanning-bed industry. While this link between industry and Holick's work wasn't spelled out in the piece, a note at the end of the article stated that Holick's research was partly funded by the UV Foundation; no foundation information was included.
According to its Website, the nonprofit foundation is financed by the Indoor Tanning Association tanning-bed equipment makers with a board of directors composed entirely of tanning-bed-industry officials. Boston University was the top recipient of grants from the foundation from 2004 through 2006--the most recent three years of the group's Internal Revenue Service filings; the university received $162,014 in that time. On its Website, the UV Foundation said it "has made a commitment of $150,000 over three years to Boston University, to continue the efforts of Dr. Michael Holick, a Vitamin D expert" adding that the foundation "is dedicated to exploring the positive effects of UV light and to increasing public awareness about those benefits."
Two weeks ago, the New England Journal of Medicine issued a correction after embarrassing disclosures of financial links between the authors of a lung-cancer study and two large companies—General Electric and Vector Group, Ltd.—the journal published a correction, a clarification, and an editorial that called for the transparent disclosure of funding sources. The lung-cancer study, which was published in 2006, has been controversial and suggested an annual screening with a CT scan could reduce the death rate from lung cancer, the top cancer killer. Critics said the study revealed that screening could detect cancers earlier—not that screening could avert deaths. GE is a big CT scanner maker and Vector is part of the Liggett Group, a large cigarette maker. The correction acknowledges the study's lead authors, Claudia Henschke and David Yankelevitz of Cornell University's Weill Medical College in New York City, received royalties from GE for pending patents on ways to manipulate and interpret CT scans and other medical images.
Current New England Journal of Medicine policies for review articles requires authors "not have major research support" from relevant companies; a spokeswoman for the journal said Holick’s amount was within guidelines. Holick's article did not report new research but made recommendations based on a review of published studies. In the piece, tanning beds were cited as a "recommended" vitamin D source when used in moderation which concerned cancer specialists who say studies have shown ultraviolet rays used in indoor tanning are linked to an increased cancer risk. "I was surprised that the New England Journal, a very prestigious journal, would run the article this way," said Martin Weinstock, a Brown University dermatology professor who also expressed surprise the journal would run an industry-funded piece.