OHIO STATE MAKES DECISION ON TOBACCO RESEARCH GRANT
COLUMBUS – Ohio State University officials today announced that they will accept a research grant from a tobacco company and in doing so, risk losing a separate grant from the state agency dispersing money won in the state’s suit against tobacco manufacturers.
The university chose to accept a research grant totaling $590,000 from the Philip Morris External Research Program (PMERP) to support research into how nicotine affects receptors in the nerve cells of zebrafish. Since the embryonic stages of humans and zebrafish are remarkably similar, researchers use the latter as a model for human development.
In doing so, the university may lose a grant of $540,000 from the Ohio Tobacco Use and Prevention Control Foundation (TUCPF) intended to support a broad-based smoking cessation program in Vinton and Ross Counties.
Stipulations in the grant award from TUPCF prohibit a grantee’s institution from accepting research support from companies that manufacture tobacco products. The proposed grant from PMERP contained no similar restrictions on any of the university’s research efforts.
University officials have been struggling with the dilemma of the two competing grants for months as they sought a way out of an “either-or” decision. Administrators from the Office of Research have discussed the proposed research with the involved faculty, held meetings to discuss the issue and solicited feedback from colleges and departments across the university. Administrators also polled member universities from the Committee for Institutional Cooperation and the decision is in line with what other CIC universities have decided when faced with similar issues.
University President Karen Holbrook said that she and her senior cabinet
had discussed the quandary at length but in the end, determined that it
was a decision that had to be made by the institution’s research
leadership. “Tom Rosol is interim vice president for research and,
as such, is the head of our research enterprise. It was his call to make
and we support his decision,” Holbrook said.
“The existing guidelines TUPCF was using regarding this grant would have unfairly restricted other researchers throughout the institution from undertaking other investigations in related areas for the three-year life of the grant.
“We simply cannot accept grants in which the sponsors place restrictions
on our other investigators to pursue their research.”
“That modification will really prevent similar dilemmas in the future,” Rosol said, “and we are most grateful to the TUCPF governing board for its deliberations. But the changes could not apply to research proposals that already had been submitted. That forced us to decide between the two current proposals.
A third alternative – to choose to accept neither of the two proposals – was also an option that might have avoided the dilemma entirely. But Rosol said he ruled that option out fairly early.
“Refusing both grants wasn’t a good answer either. Doing so would have resulted in both of these excellent research groups losing support. That could have had a chilling effect on the progress of that work and delayed any advances that arose from the work,” Rosol said.
Both Rosol and Holbrook emphasized that the university’s decision was in no way a referendum on support for tobacco manufacturers, tobacco supporters or any other player in this passionate debate. The decision relates only to the facts surrounding these two particular grant proposals.
Rosol said that the current grant-funding dilemma also shows that the university’s research efforts are broad, current and comprehensive. “There was a time when public institutions such as Ohio State would not have faced this problem,” Rosol said. “But as a major national research enterprise, we will continue to face this kind of dilemma. Our challenge is to go forward and make the right decisions for the people of the State of Ohio and of the nation.”