Burke Scientist Questions Study Findings for Patients in Vegetative State

Published February 1, 2013

By Burke Staff

A team of scientists led by Andrew Goldfine, M.D., a neurologist at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, has found flaws in the findings of a widely published study that claimed bedside electroencephalography (EEG) identified evidence of awareness in three patients diagnosed to be in a vegetative state.

The new reanalysis study conducted by Dr. Goldfine and Weill Cornell neurologists Jonathan Victor, M.D., Ph.D., and Nicholas Schiff, M.D., published in the Jan. 26 issue of the journal Lancet, reports the statistical results and methodology used by a research team led by University of Western Ontario scientists and published online on Nov. 9, 2011, also in the Lancet, was flawed in a number of crucial ways. Due to these errors, the reanalysis concludes it is impossible to determine whether or not these vegetative state study subjects demonstrated any degree of awareness during the testing.

The University of Western Ontario researchers in the original study set out to use bedside EEG technology to identify any changes in brain activity in vegetative patients and also healthy subjects as controls. During the study, each subject was asked to either imagine moving their hand or foot each time they heard an electronic beep. The brain activity following hand or foot commands was recorded using EEG and then compared in the study. The published study claimed that three of the 16 tested vegetative patients successfully performed the task, along with 9 of the 12 healthy controls. The reanalysis of this study is important, the Weill Cornell researchers say, because if the method was indeed valid, it would mark an important breakthrough in the field -- the first evidence using a bedside testing method that patients reported to be in a vegetative state could perform high-level cognitive tasks.

For more on the reanalysis results, visit the Weill Cornell Medical College newsroom.

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