Gum research leads to sticky business with sponsors

December 17, 1999

Michael de Laine reports from Koge on a case that will change the Danish system of research funding

New rules for sponsored research in Denmark are planned after a chewing gum manufacturer put pressure on a Danish university to stop publishing a study that did not support its claim that its product protects teeth against decay.

In October 1997, researchers at Aarhus University's Institute of Dentistry completed a three-year study of 603 Lithuanian children to determine whether V6 chewing gum, produced by Dandy, helps prevent cavities. Dandy, based in south Jutland, supported the research with DKr 300,000 (Pounds 25,865).

The results showed that there was no significant difference in the number of cavities of children who chew the gum and those who did not.

Dissatisfied with the findings, Dandy hired Gallup to check whether the children had followed the research project's regime. It seems they had not. Chewing gum, rare in Lithuania when the research started, had become common and the children had chewed other types of gum too.

Dandy discussed the findings with the leading researcher, Bente Nyvad, in August. She did not find the objections relevant and announced that a summary of the research was to be presented at the congress of the International Association for Dental Research in the United States in April 2000.

When Dandy received the summary at the same time as it was sent to the US, the company claimed a breach of the agreement that material should be shown to Dandy before being made public. Dandy demanded that all its objections be included in the material; the researchers refused.

The company tried to make the researchers retract the material and Dandy's lawyer contacted Aarhus rector Henning Lehmann, saying Dandy could run into serious problems as a result of the research. The university agreed to recommend to the researchers that they withdraw their material.

At the end of September, Professor Lehmann said the researchers had agreed to observe a written recommendation to withdraw the material, provided they were allowed to publish their findings in a scientific journal later. The researchers and Dandy signed a new agreement allowing Dandy a 90-day sole preview of the material.

This month, the Danish press reported that the researchers were forced into silence. Dandy threatened to sue Aarhus University for having leaked secret information that could damage the company.

Thorkild Karring, head of the Institute of Dentistry at Aarhus, admitted he had leaked the information and resigned because he found the situation "totally idiotic".

Research minister Birte Weiss will recommend that Denmark's auditor general investigate the case. It is likely that researchers working for Danish universities, hospitals and public research institutions will have to provide information about funding they receive from private business.

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