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Journal editor criticised for financial ties with medical devices maker -

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis has found that Thomas Zdeblick, editor-in-chief of the medical journal Journal of Spinal Disorders & Techniques, failed to disclose ties to spinal- and heart-device maker Medtronic. The editor reportedly received millions in royalties for promoting Medtronic spinal products through the journal.

Zdeblick, a University of Wisconsin orthopedic surgeon, took over as editor-in-chief of the journal in 2002. Since then, studies that involved Medtronic spinal products or that were funded by Medtronic appeared in the journal at least once per issue, on average. It was found that dozens of studies mentioning Medtronic products have been published during Zdeblick’s tenure as editor. More often than not, the articles, including some co-authored by Zdeblick, reported positive views about the Medtronic products. The articles rarely found problems with the company’s devices. None of the articles disclosed the financial ties the authors had to Medtronic.

In a statement, a spokesman for the spinal journal has however clarified that Zdeblick had disclosed his financial relationship with Medtronic to the journal publisher, Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Financial ties between doctors, medical researchers and the drug industry is a known fact in the industry. Highly regarded doctors and researchers have also faced a great deal of criticism because of their financial arrangements with pharmaceutical companies. Medical journals also have been criticised for not always requiring authors to fully disclose financial conflicts. The situation with Zdeblick and the journal is seen as yet another twist in the ongoing controversy over conflicts of interest in the field of medicine.

In an effort to protect the integrity of research and improve public trust, a number of organisations have published guidelines that include specific recommendations for disclosure of information about authors' conflict of interests (COI). Similarly, journal policies calling for authors to disclose COIs have evolved. However, it is unclear whether medical journals have consistent policies for defining and soliciting COI disclosures. In November 2009, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a report, according to which nearly 90 percent of medical journals with relatively high impact factors have policies addressing author COI available for public review. But many journals do not require authors to sign disclosure statements, and there is variability in how COI is defined, the report stated.

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