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Promise and Progress - Research in Action: Big Tobacco Pays Up

Sidney Kimmel Gives Hopkins Its Biggest Gift Ever

Research in Action: Big Tobacco Pays Up

Date: December 1, 2002


In the late 1990s, 46 states, five territories and Washington, D.C., brought suit against the nation’s leading cigarette manufacturers. They sought reimbursement for the huge costs incurred from smoking-related diseases like cancer. After months of testimony—including evidence that manufacturers knew for decades the deadly nature of their products—the court ruled in favor of the states, slapping the cigarette companies with a whopping $53 billion in penalties. Multimillion-dollar settlements were distributed among the states, and Maryland was among the first to use the windfall to combat its most prevalent cancers.

What is the risk of getting cancer from second-hand smoke?  Why does Baltimore City lead the nation in prostate cancer deaths?  Can a vaccine prevent cervical cancer?  These are just a few of the medical mysteries Johns Hopkins scientists will attempt to resolve. Fueling their discovery is the first distribution of funds from Maryland’s share of the multimillion-dollar settlement with the nation’s cigarette manufacturers.

Based on Maryland’s legislation for the settlement, called the Cigarette Restitution Fund (CRF), Johns Hopkins scientists and clinicians will direct their efforts to community-focused research in lung, breast, cervical, skin, colon, oral and prostate cancers, which are among the most common and deadly cancers in Maryland.

For as long as state-by-state statistics on numbers of cancer cases have been compiled, Maryland has ranked high on the list, even climbing to number one in 1990. Driving these numbers are high rates of prostate cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, and other environment-related cancers in the poor and minority communities of Baltimore’s inner city. “The most important investment we can make with these dollars is to find the root causes behind Maryland’s high cancer rates and help lower the impact it has on our community,” says Maryland Governor Parris Glendening who worked with state legislators to appropriate a portion of the settlement funds for cancer research.

Researchers throughout the state have uncovered novel ways to combat the disease. New genetic causes of cancer, promising anti-cancer drugs and vaccines, and biological screening targets may allow cancers to be prevented or detected in very early, curable stages. The CRF funding provides a unique opportunity to expand upon prior discoveries with innovative approaches that can be used to address the specific needs of our own Baltimore City neighborhoods ravaged by high cancer rates.

Nineteen scientists at Johns Hopkins have been awarded approximately $100,000 each in the first grants funded by the CRF. Among the research projects is an evaluation of two natural products, ginseng and selenium, for potential lung cancer prevention properties. Hopkins epidemiologists will evaluate a new technique to screen for breast cancer in high-risk women by examining cells from the lining of breast  ducts. Studies will be conducted on vaccines that target the human papillomavirus (HPV) to prevent development of cervical cancer. For men who work or reside in areas where they are exposed to high levels of cadmium, Hopkins scientists will monitor levels of this metal additive, along with zinc and selenium, in prostate tissue samples to determine their effect on the development of prostate cancer. From a unique 30-year-old study, researchers will estimate the incidence of all types of cancers in smokers and those exposed to second-hand smoke. Smoke is only one carcinogen — Hopkins epidemiologists also will create a list of environmental carcinogens prevalent in Maryland, based on the potential for exposure and risk.

In total, Johns Hopkins will receive more than $14 million from the state’s multimillion dollar award. Plans for the funds also call for the improvement of research facilities, including the Broadway Research Building and expansion of  the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Hopkins also received a $1.5 million public health grant this year for the development of community-based cancer education, prevention, and screening programs in collaboration with the University of Maryland, Sinai Hospital, the Baltimore City Health Department, and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. An additional $3 million in research grants is anticipated in 2002 and 2003.

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