Research on communication with completely paralyzed patients prompts misconduct investigation

first_img A research group’s claimed ability to communicate with completely paralyzed people has come under fire, prompting research misconduct investigations at a German university and at Germany’s main research agency, the German Research Foundation (DFG). Two years ago, researchers in Germany and Switzerland claimed that by analyzing blood flow in different parts of the brain with an electronic skullcap, they could elucidate answers to yes or no questions from completely paralyzed people. The find, published in PLOS Biology in 2017, raised hopes for patients with degenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that ultimately leave them without any voluntary muscle control—not even the ability to blink or move their eyes—a condition called a “completely locked-in state.” Now, a simmering controversy about the paper has erupted into public view.As first reported by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, PLOS Biology yesterday published a critique of the paper that claims the authors’ statistical analysis is incorrect. Martin Spüler, an informatics specialist at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in Germany, says his analysis of the data shows no support for the authors’ claim that their system could allow patients to answer questions correctly 70% of the time. His critique, first raised in late 2017, has prompted investigations of possible scientific misconduct at both DFG and the University of Tübingen, where the group studying locked-in patients is also based.Spüler says he originally wanted to test whether a different algorithm could make the method even more accurate, but when he analyzed the data he found that the team had averaged its data in a way that ended up always producing a statistically significant result. “With the statistical tests they use, you will always get a positive answer.” He says his attempts to get explanations from the authors were unsuccessful. “It doesn’t add up,” he says. Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) By Gretchen VogelApr. 9, 2019 , 2:10 PM Email A device that measures the oxygen levels in different brain regions. Researchers have claimed this technology can allow locked-in patients to communicate.center_img Artinis Medical Systems/Brite Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe Research on communication with completely paralyzed patients prompts misconduct investigation The paper’s first author, Ujwal Chaudhary of the University of Tübingen, says Spüler is applying his statistical tests to their data incorrectly and failing to account for biological and clinical circumstances behind their analyses. “You can’t analyze the data without knowing the way we did the experiment and the neurophysiology behind the data,” he says.The researcher who led the work, Niels Birbaumer of the University of Tübingen and the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering, in Geneva, Switzerland, says the disagreement is over statistical methods. He is not worried by the misconduct investigations, which he says “are legally absolutely correct.” He says he was happy to answer the investigators’ questions and acknowledges that the data are difficult to interpret. “My conclusion is of course we have to document the responses of these patients much more carefully in order to avoid such a discussion at all,” he says.Birbaumer’s earlier work has helped severely disabled patients use brainwave devices to choose letters and write messages. He says the paper was a first hint that similar methods might also work with people in a completely locked-in state. “We never said anywhere that we are confident that we can read these people’s thoughts, even their yes or no thoughts. We say this may be a useful first step.” Press coverage of the paper wildly exaggerated the claims, he says. “In the press, it’s completely ridiculous.” Still, he says, at least one patient from the study is still using the device to communicate with his wife.Reinhold Scherer, who studies brain-computer interfaces and neural engineering at the University of Essex in Colchester, U.K., and who wrote a commentary accompanying the critique, says the team’s claim was always inherently tricky to prove, he says. Trials with locked-in patients are extremely expensive and logistically difficult, he notes, so it is hard for other groups to replicate the work. Birbaumer “is the only one in the community who has the access and the funding to do this research,” he says. The hint that there might be a way to communicate with these patients is a welcome message, he says, “but there’s just not enough evidence that we can definitely say it’s working.”last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *