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NIH halts controversial study of moderate drinking

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The National Institutes of Health has ordered a halt to a $100 million, 10-year study of moderate drinking that’s being funded in large part by the alcoholic-beverage industry.

Thursday morning’s announcement reflects the seriousness of allegations that surfaced in news reports in recent months, including a story in March in the New York Times that described two scientists and a federal health official pitching the idea for the study to liquor company executives at a gathering in 2014 in Palm Beach, Fla.

The alcohol industry agreed to fund the research via a private foundation that supports NIH. The goal of the study, which involves 7,000 individuals, is to assess whether moderate drinking — a single drink a day — has a health benefit. Some research has suggested such a benefit, but the conclusion remains controversial, and the U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that people who do not drink alcohol should not start.

The Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular (MACH) trial is based at Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a grantee of NIH. Two reviews of the clinical trial are underway at NIH. The first, by the Office of Management Assessment, will look at any possible irregularities in the grant process. The second, by an advisory committee to NIH Director Francis Collins, will examine the scientific merit of the study.

“NIH has requested that the grantee, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, pause all study activities until the reviews are completed,” NIH said in a brief announcement that gave no further details on the reasons for the pause.

NIH said Thursday that the reviews are expected to be concluded in June. “We shall see what that turns up,” Collins said in March. “I am taking this very seriously.”

A spokesperson for Beth Israel said the medical center is preparing its response.



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