A University of Maryland committee will conduct an institutional review of a university study on chocolate milk after several media outlets called into question its procedures and results.
A news release issued Dec. 22 touted the preliminary results of an unpublished study conducted by kinesiology professor Jae Kun Shim. The study reportedly found that high school football players who drank Fifth Quarter Fresh, a new high-protein chocolate milk, during the fall 2014 football season showed improved cognitive and motor function, even after experiencing concussions.
Within a week, media companies such as Vox and HealthNewsReview.org began to raise questions about the study’s validity and integrity.
The study — partially funded by Fifth Quarter Fresh — did not test other brands of chocolate milk.
After learning of some of these concerns, Patrick O’Shea, the university’s research vice president, announced an institutional review out of an “abundance of caution” and in response to the questions raised about the study, university spokeswoman Crystal Brown said.
A committee has been formed to examine the study’s procedures, Brown said.
Issuing a news release on a study that has not yet been published is very abnormal, O’Shea said. He said this was an isolated incident and one that required further examination.
“That is precisely why we have launched an institutional review: to answer the questions of how this happened and why this happened,” O’Shea said. “The review will examine the institutional and specific issues of this study that led to the decision to send out a press release.”
He said the review will also consider issues of improving the process to ensure something like this does not happen again.
Shim and Hagerstown-based Fifth Quarter Fresh were matched through the university’s Maryland Industrial Partnerships program.
“The goal of MIPS is to create jobs in Maryland,” said Joseph Naft, the program’s director. “We do that by helping innovative Maryland companies. … We provide funding matched by participating companies that help fund university-based projects that help promote job creation in the state of Maryland.”
Researchers from the University System of Maryland, St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Morgan State University can participate in the program. Often, a company will already know a researcher with whom it wants to work, Naft said. If it does not, the program’s staff will reach out to faculty to find the best match in research expertises.
Once a company is matched with a faculty member, they provide a joint proposal, which is put through an extensive review process, Naft said. An evaluation board ranks and considers the proposals, and the primary criterion is the proposal’s likelihood of creating jobs, Naft said.
The project with Fifth Quarter Fresh was a two-phase project that began in May 2014, he said.
Both the program and any company involved in a project contribute a percentage of the project’s funding, Naft said. The amount of money contributed by each depends on the size of a given company.
For startups like Fifth Quarter Fresh, or companies with 20 employees or fewer, participating firms are required to contribute about 10 percent of a project’s total funding each year. For up to two years, the program can contribute up to $90,000 in funding and the company can contribute up to $10,000. For larger companies, the program can contribute more funding per year, with the partnering firm matching a larger percentage of funds.
“We require those matches for a number of reasons,” Naft said. “Primarily because we want to see that the company is serious about the research and to see they are able to raise at least that much money. We also want to help raise the probability of success of job creation in Maryland.”
As a leading research university, this university is committed to the “highest standards of research” and relies on the integrity of its academics for its reputation, which is why this issue is important, O’Shea said.
“We take the matter very seriously and the questions are of concern, and that’s why we instituted the review and the inquiry to try and get a better understanding of this study and the results that it yielded,” Brown said.