A Star Surgeon Left a Trail of Dead Patients—and His Whistleblowers Were Punished
The Dr. Paolo Macchiarini Scandal
Eve Herold wrote on October 08, 2018 that
A Star Surgeon Left a Trail of Dead Patients and His Whistleblowers Were Punished
Read the original article here
Dr. Paolo Macchiarini was a professor of Regenerative Medicine at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm (Sweden).
This is the first comprehensive account of the whistleblowers’ side of the scandal.
The Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm were wrong to hire Dr. Paolo Macchiarini and wrong to try to cover up his incompetence and lies. The Karolinska Institutet (KI) considered Dr Paolo Macchiarini a star surgeon and groundbreaking stem cell researcher even though they had been warned that he had fabricated his results in the past.
Macchiarini claimed that he was regenerating human windpipes by seeding plastic scaffolds with stem cells from the patient’s own bone marrow. But he was lying and falsifying his research results.
At the Karolinska Institutet Macchiarini performed three windpipe transplants all of whom left KI after the operations. Macchiarini helped unknowing colleagues write journal articles claiming the operations were a sucess. But, actually, Macchiarini knew that they had all done badly and died. Macchiarini had claimed that he had ethical approval to perform the operations, but he lied.
Karl-Henrik Grinnemo was a young cardiothoracic surgeon and researcher at Karolinska in 2010, when Macchiarini was hired.
A professor in Leuven, Belgium wrote warning to KI’s vice chancellor, Harriett Wallberg-Henriksson and professor Anders Hamsten, that Macchiarini was guilty of prior research misconduct. Professor Pierre Delaere at Kathiolieke Universiteit asserted the outcome of Macchiarini’s previous human surgeries “disastrous…half the patients died. The others are in a palliative setting….We cannot find one word of evidence that points to regeneration induced by stem cells.”
Once again, KI simply ignored the warning.
A group of whistleblowers realized that, despite Macchiarini’s claims of successful operations in several now-published papers, the patients had been mutilated. Grinnemo, together with fellow KI physicians Matthias Corbascio, Oscar Simonson and Thomas Fux, realized that, despite Macchiarini’s claims of successful operations in several now-published papers, the patients had been mutilated and suffered a lingering and agonizing death..
Grinnemo and his three concerned colleagues spoke to the patients’ relatives seeking permission to review their medical records. There were many complications that Macchiarini was aware of and that he should have reported.
Grinnemo and several other suspicious colleagues prepared a 500-page report revealing that Macchiarini had falsified data and suppressed critical information in his reporting. He had even invented biopsies of the grafts. The whistleblowers also discovered that Macchiarini had never received ethical clearance, nor had he approval from the Medical Product Agency.
What Macchiarini was doing, the investigators realized, was experimentation on living human subjects without ethical clearance.
Dr. Ulf Lockowandt, the head of Karolinska University Hospital’s Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Anders Hamsten,
KI had reason to sweep criticisms of Macchiarini under the rug. KI stood to receive millions of dollars in a government grant to conduct the study of Macchiarini's methods across Europe and Russia. Over $45 million was also to be provided by a wealthy Chinese businessman.
Grinnemo says KI not only ignored the whistleblowers’ allegations; punishment against them was swift and decisive. Drs Ulf Lockowandt, Anders Hamsten and others at KI accused the whistleblowers of unethical behaviour, breaches of confidentiality, reading medical records without authorisation, criminal behaviour which KI reported to the police, and gave them written warnings and finally they were fired. All the while KI suppressed disclosure of the scandal and falsely cleared Macchiatini of wrong doing. KI continued to go after the whistleblowers aggressively.
Then a devastating article on Paolo Macchiarini was published in the American magazine Vanity Fair. Titled “The Celebrity Surgeon Who Used Love, Money and the Pope to Scam an NBC News Producer,” the article revealed Macchiarini as an even more prolific fabulist and liar than anyone had remotely suspected. Not only did he fabricate data for multiple scientific papers, he had also lied about everything from his alleged medical training and celebrity connections to his personal relationship status. Ironically, the woman who ultimately dismantled Macchiarini was Benita Alexander, a former producer for NBC News who was at one point engaged to marry him in a lavish ceremony that Macchiarini promised would be officiated by Pope Francis. Except that he didn’t know the Pope, and he was already married to one woman and living with another.
It was Benita Alexander who managed to unmask Macchiatini and the Karoliska Institutet as frauds. She demanded that KI’s president step down and that Macchiarini be fired. There was a cascade of resignations and firings at KI. Eventually, the entire board at Karolinska was replaced.
Grinnemo is currently suing KI for a chance to defend himself against its accusations of scientific misconduct. He’s also claiming damages for lost grant funding, thousands of hours spent defending himself, and harm to his reputation. “KI did a very good job of destroying our careers,” says Simonson. “They didn’t do anything else well, but they did a very thorough job of that.”
Eve Herold is a science writer specializing in issues at the intersection of science and society. She has written and spoken extensively about stem cell research and regenerative medicine and the social and bioethical aspects of leading-edge medicine. Her 2007 book, Stem Cell Wars, was awarded a Commendation in Popular Medicine by the British Medical Association. Her 2016 book, Beyond Human, has been nominated for the Kirkus Prize in Nonfiction, and a forthcoming book, Robots and the Women Who Love Them, will be released in 2019.
Another very similar story: The William Tarnow Mordi Scandal here