predicting DVT with D-dimer in stroke patients: a rebuttal to our letter

Some weeks ago, I reported on a letter to the editor of Thrombosis Research on the question whether D-Dimer indeed does improve DVT risk prediction in stroke patients.

I was going to write a whole story on how one should not use a personal blog to continue the scientific debate. As you can guess, I ended up writing a full paragraph where I did this anyway. So I deleted that paragraph and I am going to do a thing that requires some action from you. I am just going to leave you with the links to the letters and let you decide whether the issues we bring up, but also the corresponding rebuttal of the authors, help to interpret the results from the the original publication.

How to set up a research group

A couple of weeks ago I wrote down some thoughts I had while writing a paper for the JTH series on Early Career Researchers. I was asked to write how one sets up a research group, and the four points I described in my previous post can be recognised in the final paper.

But I also added some reading tips in the paper. reading on a particular topic helps me not only to learn what is written in the books, but also to get my mind in a certain mindset. So, when i knew that i was going to take over a research group in Berlin I read a couple of books, both fiction and non fiction. Some where about Berlin (e.g. Cees Nootebooms Berlijn 1989/2009), some were focussed on academic life (e.g. Porterhouse Blue). They help to get my mind in a certain gear to help me prepare of what is going on. In that sense, my bookcase says a lot about myself.

The number one on the list of recommended reads are the standard management best sellers, as I wrote in the text box:

// Management books There are many titles that I can mention here; whether it the best-seller Seven Habits of Highly Effective People or any of the smaller booklets by Ken Blanchard, I am convinced that reading some of these texts can help you in your own development as a group leader. Perhaps you will like some of the techniques and approaches that are proposed and decide to adopt them. Or, like me, you may initially find yourself irritated because you cannot envision the approaches working in the academic setting. If this happens, I encourage you to keep reading because even in these cases, I learned something about how academia works and what my role as a group leader could be through this process of reflection. My absolute top recommendation in this category is Leadership and Self-Deception: a text that initially got on my nerves but in the end taught me a lot.

I really think that is true. You should not only read books that you agree with, or which story you enjoy. Sometimes you can like a book not for its content but the way it makes you question your own preexisting beliefs and habits. But it is true that this sometimes makes it difficult to actually finnish such a book.

Next to books, I am quite into podcasts so I also wrote

// Start up. Not a book, but a podcast from Gimlet media about “what it’s really like to get a business off the ground.” It is mostly about tech start-ups, but the issues that arise when setting up a business are in many ways similar to those you encounter when you are starting up a research group. I especially enjoyed seasons 1 and 3.

I thought about including the sponsored podcast “open for business” from Gimlet Creative, as it touches upon some very relevant aspects of starting something new. But for me the jury is still out on the “sponsored podcast” concept  – it is branded content from amazon, and I am not sure to what extent I like that. For now, i do not like it enough to include it in the least in my JTH-paper.

The paper is not online due to the summer break,but I will provide a link asap.

– update 11.10.2016 – here is a link to the paper. 





Does d-dimer really improve DVT prediction in stroke?


Good question, and even though thromboprofylaxis is already given according to guidelines in some countries, I can see the added value of a good discriminating prediction rule. Especially finding those patients with low DVT risk might be useful. But using d-dimer is a whole other question. To answer this, a thorough prediction model needs to be set up both with and without the information of d-dimer and only a direct comparison of these two models will provide the information we need.

In our view, that is not what the paper by Balogun et al did. And after critical appraisal of the tables and text, we found some inconsistencies that prohibits the reader from understanding what exactly was done and which results were obtained. In the end, we decided to write a letter to the editor, especially to prevent that other readers to mistakenly take over the conclusion of the authors. This conclusion, being that “D-dimer concentration with in 48 h of acute stroke is independently associated with development of DVT.This observation would require confirmation in a large study.” Our opinion is that the data from this study needs to be analysed properly to justify such an conclusion. One of the key elements in our letter is that the authors never compare the AUC of the model with and without d-dimer. This is needed as that would provide the bulk of the answer whether or not d-dimer should be measured. The only clue we have are the ORs of d-dimer, which range between 3-4, which is not really impressive when it comes to diagnosis and prediction. For more information on this, please check this paper on the misuse of the OR as a measure of interest for diagnosis/prediction by Pepe et al.

A final thing I want to mention is that our letter was the result of a mini-internship of one of the students at the Master programme of the CSB and was drafted in collaboration with our Virchow scholar HGdH from the Netherlands. Great team work!

The letter can be found on the website of Thrombosis Research as well as on my Mendeley profile.


Cardiovascular events after ischemic stroke in young adults (results from the HYSR study)

2016-05-01 21_39_40-Cardiovascular events after ischemic stroke in young adults

The collaboration with the group in finland has turned into a nice new publication, with the title

“Cardiovascular events after ischemic stroke in young adults”

this work, with data from Finland was primarily done by KA and JP. KA came to Berlin to learn some epidemiology with the aid of the Virchow scholarship, so that is where we came in. It was great to have KA to be part of the team, and even better to have been working on their great data.

Now onto the results of the paper: like in the results of the RATIO follow-up study, the risk of recurrent young stroke remained present for a long-term time after the stroke in this analysis of the Helsinki Young Stroke Registry. But unlike the RATIO paper, this data had more information on their patients, for example the TOAST criteria. this means that we were able to identify that the group with a LAA had a very high risk of recurrence.

The paper can be found on the website of Neurology, or via my mendeley profile.

Pregnancy loss and risk of ischaemic stroke and myocardial infarction

2016-04-08 13_36_29-Posteingang - - Outlook

Together with colleagues I worked on a paper on relationship between pregnancy, its complications and stroke and myocardial infarction in young women, which just appeared online on the BJH website.

The article, which analyses data from the RATIO study, concludes that only if you have multiple pregnancy losses, your risk of stroke is increased (OR 2.4) compared to those who never experienced a pregnancy loss. The work was mainly done by AM, and is a good example of international collaborations where we benefitted from the expertise of all team members.

The article, with the full title “Pregnancy loss and risk of ischaemic stroke and myocardial infarction” can be found via PubMed, or via my personal Mendeley page.

Statins and risk of poststroke hemorrhagic complications

2016-03-28 13_00_38-Statins and risk of poststroke hemorrhagic complicationsEaster brought another publication, this time with the title

“Statins and risk of poststroke hemorrhagic complications”

I am very pleased with this paper as it demonstrates two important aspects of my job. First, I was able to share my thought on comparing current users vs never users. As has been argued before (e.g. by the group of Hérnan) and also articulated in a letter to the editor I wrote with colleagues from Leiden, such a comparison brings forth an inherent survival bias: you are comparing never users (i.e. those without indication) vs current users (those who have the indication, can handle the side-effects of the medication, and stay alive long enough to be enrolled into the study as users). This matter is of course only relevant if you want to test the effect of statins, not if you are interested in the mere predictive value of being a statin user.

The second thing about this paper is the way we were able to use data from the VISTA collaboration, which is a large amount of data pooled from previous stroke studies (RCT and observational). I believe such ways of sharing data brings forward science. Should all data be shared online for all to use? I do am not sure of that, but the easy access model of the VISTA collaboration (which includes data maintenance and harmonization etc) is certainly appealing.

The paper can be found here, and on my mendeley profile.


– update 1.5.2016: this paper was topic of a comment in the @greenjournal. See also their website

update 19.5.2016: this project also led to first author JS to be awarded with the young researcher award of the ESOC2016.



Causal Inference in Law: An Epidemiological Perspective


Finally, it is here. The article I wrote together with WdH, MZ and RM was published in the European Journal of Risk and Regulation last week. And boy, did it take time! This whole project, an interdisciplinary project where epidemiological thinking was applied to questions of causal inference in tort law, took > 3 years – with only a couple of months writing… the rest was waiting and waiting and waiting and some peer review. but more on this later.

First some content. in the article we discuss the idea of proportional liability that adheres to the epidemiological concept of multi-causality. But the article is more: as this is a journal for non epidemiologist, we also provide a short and condensed overview of study design, bias and other epidemiological concepts such as counterfactual thinking. You might have recognised the theme from my visits to the Leiden Law school for some workshops. The EJRR editorial describes it asas: “(…) discuss the problem of causal inference in law, by providing an epidemiological viewpoint. More specifically, by scrutinizing the concept of the so-called “proportional liability”, which embraces the epidemiological notion of multi-causality, they demonstrate how the former can be made more proportional to a defendant’s relative contribution in the known causal mechanism underlying a particular damage.”

Getting this thing published was tough: the quality of the peer review was low (dare I say zero?),communication was difficult, submission system flawed etc. But most of all the editorial office was slow – first submission was June 2013! This could be a non-medical journal thing, i do not know, but still almost three years. And this all for an invited article that was planned to be part of a special edition on the link between epi and law, which never came. Due several delays (surprise!) of the other articles for this edition, it was decided that our article is not waiting for this special edition anymore. Therefore, our cool little insight into epidemiology now seems to be lost between all those legal and risk regulation articles. A shame if you ask me, but I am glad that we are not waiting any longer!

Although i do love interdisciplinary projects, and I think the result is a nice one, I do not want to go through this process again. No more EJRR for me.

Ow, one more thing… the article is behind a pay wall and i do not have access through my university, nor did the editorial office provide me with a link to a pdf of the final version. So, to be honest, I don’t have the final article myself! Feels weird. I hope EJRR will provide me with a pdf quite soon. In the meantime, anybody with access to this article, please feel free to send me a copy!