A professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center has been awarded a $744,765 three-year grant to study a potential new treatment for lung cancer. The professor, Susan E. Senogles, an associate professor of molecular sciences, will use the grant to study whether lung cancer cells can be attacked through dopamine receptors on their surfaces.
Small cell lung cancer cells are known to have dopamine receptors on their surfaces and if these receptors can be selectively targeted, it may be possible to develop treatments for lung cancer that are effective but much less toxic than current chemotherapeutic agents. Professor Senogles has already shown that this method of targeting dopamine receptors is effective in slowing the growth of pituitary tumor cells.
The Rest of the Story
If this research is successful, it will not only advance lung cancer treatment but it will also bring tremendous good will, great publicity, and public respect for the organization that is funding this work. Likely, this improved public image will translate into an increase in sales of the funding company's products.
The company is Philip Morris, and its products are cigarettes.
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center has accepted funding from Philip Morris to study a potential treatment for cancer caused by products made by the funding agency.
The problem is that by accepting this funding, the University is helping Philip Morris to achieve a critical public relations (and therefore - marketing) function: to improve its public image, enhance its public perception as a socially responsible company, and ultimately, to sell more cigarettes. In turn, this will cause more lung cancer which can then be treated by this new therapy.
In other words, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center has now become a pawn in the tobacco industry's public relations game.
Arguably, the Health Science Center's involvement in tobacco company marketing activities is in conflict with its primary mission, which is "to improve human health-through education, research, and public service."
While the University of Tennessee may see this as public service because it may improve lung cancer treatment, it is actually more substantially serving the interests of Philip Morris because it is advancing a critical tobacco company public relations and marketing objective.
The rest of the story reveals that in the name of supporting its own research, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center has compromised its very mission by becoming a partner in the Philip Morris public relations campaign. One has to question how this health institution defines public service.