Retraction Watch

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Misconduct found in 7 papers by Macchiarini, says English write-up of investigation

with 3 comments

Paolo Macchiarini

Paolo Macchiarini

The Karolinska Institutet in Sweden has released an English translation of an external review that found Paolo Macchiarini, a celebrated surgeon who is credited with creating tracheas from cadavers and patients’ own stem cells, committed misconduct in a series of papers describing the work.

You can read the entire report, news of which was first reported by Sciencehere. The investigator, Bengt Gerdin, of Uppsala University, considered a series of allegations about Macchiarini’s papers, and found a number of them lived up to the verdict of misconduct. There were seven affected papers, not six, as was reported last week based on the initial findings (reported in Swedish).

For instance, in a 2014 Nature Communications paper describing the procedure in rats, Gerdin found that the scientists erred when none of the listed authors could assume responsibility for a CT image showing rats with “a smooth and patent oesophagus” (the researcher who took it asked to be left off the author list when he disagreed with how it was being interpreted), among other issues:

…the principally most outstanding fault is that the authors have decided to present research results for which none of them can take responsibility. This is inconsistent with accepted research practice and therefore qualifies as misconduct, and the lead author (or in Nature Communication’s words “corresponding author”) bears the blame for this. The paper also contains a number of other weaknesses/faults in the presentation of the animal experiments that had been conducted. These experiments are presented so vaguely that it is surprising that a journal of Nature Communication’s calibre accepted the paper without demanding extensive clarifications, which should have been dealt with in an effective referee-process.

In a series of six papers describing the results of experiments with three human subjects, Gerdin concluded that several other incidents of misconduct had occurred:

To describe a clinical result after five months without conducting any examination of the patient at this point in time is significant; it is inconsistent with accepted scientific practice and therefore qualifies as misconduct (Paper 1).

To explicitly state that an ethical permit exists despite the absence of one is a false claim that affects the reliability of the research; this is a serious departure from accepted scientific practice and therefore qualifies as misconduct (Paper 1) .

To refer to paper 1 and make out that it accounts for a longer follow-up than actually was the case is false. This also applies to the actual description of the healing of the mucosa over the prosthesis, which in no way matches the accounts given in the medical records. In any case, it is an act of carelessness and a departure from accepted scientific practice and therefore qualifies as misconduct (Paper 2).

To describe the postoperative condition of a patient in such a way that leaves readers unable to make any other interpretation than that the postoperative conditions are good when in reality the patient has serious problems is to deliberately dress up the results. This is inconsistent with accepted scientific practice and therefore qualifies as misconduct, regardless of the fact that the paper’s main purpose is not purely clinical (Paper 3).

To state that the circumstances 12 months after the operation were good despite the patient being in an extremely serious clinical condition and to claim by way of excuse that no check was made of the patient’s status in the hospital records is significant; it is inconsistent with accepted scientific practice and therefore qualifies as misconduct (Paper 4).

To omit to mention that one of the reported patients had to undergo a new operation because of material failure was an active withholding of information and a dressing-up of the results. Such withholding of information is inconsistent with accepted scientific practice and therefore qualifies as misconduct (Paper 5).

To selectively describe certain minor postoperative problems while omitting the really major problems that led to the operated patient’s death is a false embellishment of the results. This constitutes active withholding of information, which is inconsistent with accepted scientific practice and therefore qualifies as misconduct (Paper 6).

According to a statement released May 27 by Karolinska Institutet, all co-authors of the papers Gerdin investigated have two weeks to respond. After that, the vice-chancellor will reach an official decision.

Macchiarini declined to comment when Retraction Watch asked him to respond to the report, but said he may once the vice-chancellor renders an official verdict.

This is one of two reviews commissioned by the Karolinska. The other cleared him of different misconduct allegations brought by Pierre Delaere. An investigation in Italy has also cleared him of most charges.

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Written by Alison McCook

May 28th, 2015 at 8:30 am

Comments
  • Leonid Schneider May 28, 2015 at 9:03 am

    Speaking of contrasting investigative reports about Italian scientists (since Macchiarini was initially exonerated by two(!) previous investigations):
    Another Italian scientist, Maria Pia Cosma (http://www.crg.eu/en/maria_pia_cosma) was accused of the western blot band duplications (https://pubpeer.com/search?q=cosma). Also her papers originating from the lab of the eminent UK scientist Kim Nasmyth are being scrutinized. Her current host institution, CRG in Barcelona, exonerated her based on a forensic report by a computer engineer, also from Barcelona.
    I myself was involved in making key points of this report available to PubPeer audience.
    The author of the report had no access to original data and has used primarily images from paper PDFs instead, plus those he downloaded from the journal website. He determined that the bands were not duplicated, based on minute differences. Critics however declared this to be not convincing, as such differences may have been artefacts of image compression (thus the need for original data).
    For details, please follow the thread from here:
    https://pubpeer.com/publications/43D229CE50CAC900509F635F611EBA#fb29739

  • chiara Lestuzzi June 27, 2015 at 2:00 pm
  • chiara Lestuzzi June 27, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    From the Gerdin report: “To state that the circumstances 12 months after the operation were good despite the patient being in an extremely serious clinical condition and to claim by way of excuse that no check was made of the patient’s status in the hospital records is significant; it is inconsistent with accepted scientific practice and therefore qualifies as misconduct (Paper 4).”

    Macchiarini responds: “I accept that my previous written response to the original accusations was inadequate in this case, as I did not give specific references and medical cases in order to justify the statement at that time.” Later, he writes: “However, as can be seen from email correspondence with Dr. Tómas Guðbjartsson in late May 2012 (available in confidence, on request only), he was ‘better again’ and indeed to mark the 12 month anniversary, I was present at a conference in Iceland and was celebrating the anniversary with the patient himself on stage and at dinner. See hyperlink to Appendix 13: Video), which includes an interview with the patient himself from this date, as well as clinicians involved in his care. I hope it is clear to anyone reading the full timeline of care and detailed clinical course of this patient in the first year following transplantation that he could in no way be described as being in an ‘extremely serious condition’ (especially compared with his pre-operative state), and that we had full grounds for optimism about his future recovery.”

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