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House Panel Seeks Data On Researchers (Re: CT Screening)


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The Wall Street Journal


October 23, 2007

A congressional committee is asking the National Cancer Institute to scrutinize the financial records of about 50 researchers leading a big government study of whether annual medical scans of smokers' lungs can save lives.

The request came in a letter from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees medical-research issues. The committee said it was concerned that potential conflicts of interest "could damage the credibility" of the decadelong, $200 million National Lung Screening Trial. The results are expected to have a significant impact in standards for lung-cancer screening and who will pay for it.

Two of the trial's principal investigators have testified as paid experts for tobacco companies facing lawsuits seeking to force them to pay for smokers' annual CT scans.

The expert work by the researchers "goes to the heart of the research questions" at issue in the government-funded study, said the letter, co-signed by Rep. John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the committee. "The tobacco industry has clear financial interest in the outcome of the NLST. If the NLST produces a negative or inconclusive result, the tobacco industry could use these findings to defend itself from litigation seeking low-dose CT screening of lung cancer as a remedy."

One of the researchers who testified for tobacco companies is Denise Aberle, who is one of the study's two national leaders. She is a professor of radiology at the University of California Los Angeles. The other, William Black, is at Dartmouth College. Dr. Aberle and Dr. Black have said the trial work has no influence on their government studies.

A National Cancer Institute spokesman said that he hadn't seen the letter and that the official to whom it was addressed was out of the office.

Rep. Dingell noted in the letter that most of the investigators overseeing research at about 30 study sites work for medical schools or academic hospitals, and he expressed concern that the institute doesn't subject them to the same detailed conflicts reviews that government-employed researchers undergo.

The committee sought information on the researchers' consulting relationships, expert-witness work, funding sources on other research and conflicts that could arise from work for firms that make screening equipment.

Write to David Armstrong at david.armstrong@wsj.com

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