Physician Wesley Neurology has sued two of its scientists who developed the first tests to determine if people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) had abnormalities in their brains.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, is one of several recent cases alleging that neurologists have failed to accurately diagnose and treat the condition.
A neuroscientist at the University of New South Wales, John Watson, and a former colleague, Andrew McNeill, were sued in 2014 after Watson developed a test that was eventually incorporated into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a manual used by psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other health care professionals.
In 2015, Watson and McNeill were sued for $250 million for wrongful termination and other claims, including medical malpractice.
Watson died in 2017 at the age of 80.
Watson and his wife, Sue, have said they are cooperating with the lawsuit.
The new lawsuit filed Monday by Neurology alleges that Watson and the former colleague were paid millions of dollars for the work and that the lab failed to disclose the payments to the plaintiffs.
Watson worked for the university’s neurology division from 1995 to 2006.
He worked at the department’s Division of Neuropathology and Pathology for 17 years before resigning in 2006 and going to work at the New York University School of Medicine.
He was a faculty member of the department from 2005 to 2008, according to his bio on the university website.
He later earned a doctorate in neuroscience at the Harvard Medical School.
The pair had two sons, Andrew and John, and they live in New Jersey.
The two scientists are both licensed by the New Jersey Board of Medical Practice.
The suit seeks unspecified damages, saying the lab did not disclose Watson’s $250,000 in payments to McNeill until after he had filed his own lawsuit against Watson and Watson’s former colleagues.
Watson’s lawyer, Michael Cusick, told The Associated Press in an email that he would not comment further.
He did not respond to a request for comment from AP.
The university said Watson is no longer a professor.
Watson told AP in 2014 that his research involved assessing the brains of children with autism and determining whether they were experiencing symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.
He said he was not a neuroscientists and that his studies did not involve neuroimaging.
“It was my passion, my passion for neuroscience, and I thought the best way to do it was to have the best neuroimagers, to do what they do,” Watson said at the time.
“And I didn’t know what to do with my expertise.”
In a statement to AP, Watson said, “The allegations in this lawsuit are simply not true.
There is no way we could have performed any kind of neuroimager on a child without the use of a trained, certified neurosurgeon who has had the experience and training in neuroimagining, neuropsychopharmacology and the neurosciences.”
Watson said in his statement that he never used his neuroimaged data to develop a diagnosis of autism or treat autism.
He added that he “never knew of any scientist working in my field who has been paid $250K for using neuroimage or other data without proper ethical review and certification.”
Watson, McNeill and Watson are not named as defendants in the new lawsuit.
McNeill is the son of the former neurosurgery professor and the founder of NeuroLogic, a company that develops brain imaging devices.
He has said he did not know about the payments until a former employee reached out to him in October 2015.
McNeil is also the former CEO of a company called NeuroGenetics, which developed a technique for measuring the integrity of the brain’s white matter.
The company said in a statement that it has not been involved in any research involving neuroimages.
“I have never heard of neuroscientiologists being paid millions or even tens of millions of $ to do their work,” McNeil said in an interview with the AP in October.
“We do not have a financial interest in the work, we have no interest in paying any money to neuroscientis to do any work, but the idea that a scientist is being paid $500,000 a year just to do a study is just wrong.”
Watson told the AP that he and McNeil did not receive payment for their work and said McNeill had no connection to the company.
Watson said McNeil was fired for violating ethical guidelines by giving the lab a sample of his brain to conduct research on.
Watson also said McNeilly had no prior experience with neuroimgaging and did not have any training in neuroscience or neurophysiology.
He also said the lab was not required to disclose its payments.
Watson, who has since died, told the New Yorker magazine in 2015