Through a new initiative at its Medical Center, Duke University is returning to its tobacco roots.
Officials announced Friday that Duke has accepted a $15 million grant from Philip Morris USA, the largest cigarette company in the United States, to establish the Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research as a new expansion of the Duke Nicotine Research Project.
Philip Morris USA will have no control over the direction of research, nor will it be able to restrict any publication of the findings. All intellectual and patent rights associated with the research will be controlled by the University, with Jed Rose, current director of the Duke Nicotine Research Program and the inventor of the nicotine skin patch, leading the center.
Rose said he understands the stigma that accompanies tobacco money, but he feels that in this case, the financial backing should not be an issue.
"I recognize that there are widespread opinions that people have about using tobacco funding for research," he said. "But the source of the money is less relevant than the conditions [with which] the money is being given."
Paid out in $5 million increments over three years, the only stipulation on the funds is that they must go toward the development, evaluation and dissemination of improved methods to help smokers quit. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
Philip Morris USA, however, hopes to show with this grant that it recognizes this fact and wants to help smokers who want to quit.
"One of our goals is to reduce the harm caused by our products," said Jennifer Golisch, a spokesperson for Philip Morris. "We recognize that quitting can be difficult, so we hope that the funding will help to contribute to the development of more effective quitting methods."
American Dance Festival participant Emily Maurer, a smoker who wants to quit, agreed there ought to be more effective methods for beating the habit.
"I tried the patch for a week--that was all I could stand. It made me feel weird and gave me bad dreams," said Maurer, noting that she has reduced her smoking from a whole pack to just five cigarettes per day.
In order to develop more effective quitting methods, Duke researchers hope to set up clinical trial testing facilities in multiple cities that will enable them to evaluate new treatments more rapidly. Pre-clinical animal research will test potential new medication that might block addictive effects. In conjunction with those efforts, scientists hope to use state-of-the-art brain-imaging techniques to gain a greater understanding of changes in the brain caused by nicotine addiction.
"We will have a complete medical treatment pipeline for evaluating and disseminating to the world other treatments to help people quit smoking," said Rose, adding that the funding will allow for more rapid development than would have otherwise been possible.
The most promising strategy seems to involve the devaluation of cigarettes before the smoker's quit day by blocking the addiction with medication or switching the smoker to nicotine-free cigarettes. Rose said he hoped there would be one "very tangible" development within the next year, but any approach would take a few years for approval by the Food and Drug Administration.