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The Sugar Association issued a press release last year blasting a study in the journal Cancer Research that linked sugar intake to tumors and metastasis, asserting “no credible link between ingested sugars and cancer has been established.”

But for 50 years, the industry had evidence in its own archives from research it buried because it could have proven damaging to their bottom line, according to a new study in the journal PLoS Biology.

What was called Project 259 was conducted at the University of Birmingham from 1967 to 1971, but abandoned by the International Sugar Research Foundation (ISRF) because the results showed adverse health links in rats, according to the new analysis.

“It is not clear why the results of Project 259 were never published,” they write. “Because ISRF knew that (the scientist) did not have a new funder lined up, it is plausible to believe that ISRF thought that terminating Project 259’s funding would prevent completion of the project and publication of results that were potentially damaging to the sugar industry.”

The sugar industry’s alleged angling of the science began with a 1967 review in the New England Journal of Medicine, which they secretly funded, that argued against evidence that linked sucrose to lipid levels in the blood, as well as coronary heart disease.

Internal documents showed they funded that initial study – and then proceeded to publish further findings in rat models that would distance sucrose from ill health effects.

But Project 259, helmed by W.F.R. Pover at Birmingham, started showing the opposite kind of results. Triglycerides went higher in rats with high-sugar diets, and indicated that “gut microbiota have a causal role in carbohydrate-induced hypertriglyceridemia.”

Other data indicated sucrose ingestion in the rats elevated a key marker in urine that was associated with bladder cancer in humans, they add.

“Project 259’s September 1969 finding indicated that the urine of rats fed a high-sucrose versus a high-starch diet contained higher levels of beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme that had been previously associated with bladder cancer in rats,” they write. “Had ISRF disclosed Project 259’s findings, it is likely that sucrose would have received scrutiny as a potential carcinogen.”

The other findings by the FDA and other regulators in that same time period indicate the list of foods generally recognized as safe (GRAS) may have changed because of Project 259 – if it ever saw print.

“This possibility seems particularly likely because in October 1969, the FDA removed cyclamates – artificial sweeteners that had captured significant market share from sucrose – from the GRAS list based on evidence that rats fed high levels of cyclamates developed bladder tumors.”

The Sugar Association issued a terse statement Tuesday, calling the new publication by the authors from the University of California San Francisco a “perspective,” and not a study. Their own look into their archives showed Project 259 was stopped for a variety of practical reasons, they argue.

“The study in question ended for three reasons, none of which involved potential research findings: the study was significantly delayed; it was consequently over budget; and the delay overlapped with an organizational restructuring with the Sugar Research Foundation becoming a new entity, the International Sugar Research Foundation,” the industry group said in their statement.

Some industries have funded science that appear to further their own business interests. For instance, Coca-Cola was linked to a group called the Global Energy Health Network in 2015 by a series of reports in The New York Times, which ultimately led to the company’s chief scientific officer stepping down amid the scrutiny.

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