Journal expresses concern over study of potential treatment for autism

A journal has issued an expression of concern for a 2014 paper on a study of a potential treatment for autism. 

The article, by a group in Slovakia, purported to show for the first time that the drug ubiquinol — a form of the compound  coenzyme Q₁₀ — could improve the ability of children with autism to communicate with their parents, communicate verbally, play games with other children and help with other behaviors. 

The paper was published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, a Hindawi journal. The first author was Anna Gvozdjáková, of Comenius University in Bratislava, and the last author was Fred Crane, a former biologist at Purdue University in Indiana. Crane, who died in 2016, is credited with being the discoverer of coenzyme Q10 in mitochondria in 1957. The 2014 article — which has been cited 29 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science — was among the last of his 400-plus papers to appear in print.

Per the EoC

Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity would like to express concern with the article titled “Ubiquinol Improves Symptoms in Children with Autism” [1] due to issues with the design and reporting of this clinical study.

Ethical approval was not obtained although this appears to be a prospective clinical test of ubiquinol, i.e. a clinical trial, and the study was not registered in a clinical trials registry. The small sample size of 24 patients indicates that this is a phase 1 clinical trial, which can only inform the safety and not the efficacy of the compound in autism. The research was funded by Tishcon Corp, who market products that contain ubiquinol, and this was not stated as a conflict of interests though it is disclosed in the funding section.

We have asked the authors’ institution to formally investigate.

Gvozdjáková did not respond to a request for comment. 

Ben Dickinson, the research integrity manager for Hindawi, told us that: 

the concern was brought to our attention in 2018 via a comment on PubMed Commons, which was closed before the publication of the notice. 

We first attempted to contact Purdue University, the institution of the senior author, who informed us that Fred L Crane had retired long before the publication of the article and were unable to assist us further. We subsequently attempted to contact Comenius University in Bratislava, but have not yet received a response. We are trying to find alternative contacts at the university to discuss our concerns with the study, and will update the notice if we receive further details.

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