Retraction Watch

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Reading about embattled trachea surgeon Paolo Macchiarini? Here’s what you need to know

with 14 comments

Paolo Macchiarini

Paolo Macchiarini

The media has been abuzz in the last few weeks with developments in the ongoing story about “super surgeon” Paolo Macchiarini. We’ve been covering the allegations against him for years (and invited him to publish a guest post on our site). Below, we present a timeline of recent events, to keep you abreast of what we know so far.

Macchiarini was famous long before accusations of misconduct arose, once-heralded for creating tracheas from cadavers and patients’ own stem cells. However, the glow of his success was diminished somewhat after some Karolinska Institutet (KI) surgeons filed a complaint in 2014 — alleging, for instance, Macchiarini had downplayed the risks of the procedure and not obtained proper consent. In response, KI issued an external review by Bengt Gerdin of Uppsala University.

Here’s what’s happened since:

April 12, 2015: KI’s Ethics Council clears Macchiarini of a number of accusations leveled against him by Pierre Delaere at KU Leuven in Belgium, who had suggested the surgeon had engaged in scientific misconduct, including fabricating data. This is one of two ongoing KI investigations into his work.

May 27, 2015: KI releases an English translation of the report of Gerdin’s investigation, which found examples of misconduct in seven of Macchiarini’s published papers. KI gives the co-authors of his articles time to respond to the finding, after which it will make its final ruling.

June 22, 2015: Swedish Research Council freezes grant payments to the KI center run by Macchiarini.

June 26, 2015: Macchiarini calls Gerdin’s misconduct investigation “a potentially disastrous miscarriage of justice.”

June 29, 2015: Ola Hermanson, Macchiarini’s co-author on his 2011 Lancet paper, says the misconduct investigation contains “serious flaws and formal errors.”

August 28, 2015: After reviewing the evidence gathered during Gerdin’s investigation, KI’s Vice Chancellor Anders Hamsten rules that Macchiarini acted in some cases “without due care,” but that his behavior “does not qualify as scientific misconduct.”

October 9, 2015: We publish a guest post by Macchiarini, in which he criticizes us for including de-identified medical information about some of his patients in a post, and covering allegations before they have been thoroughly investigated.

January 5, 2016: Vanity Fair publishes a story about how Macchiarini romanced an NBC producer while she was working on a story about him, and in the process raises the allegation he lied on his CV when applying to the KI position.

January 13, 2016: Swedish Television airs a series of documentaries about Macchiarini and his work, alleging, in part, that he operated on patients in Russia whose conditions were not life-threatening enough to warrant such a risky procedure.

January 28, 2016: KI announces it may reopen its misconduct investigation into Macchiarini following the allegations revealed by SVT.

February 4, 2016: KI announces it will not extend Macchiarini’s contract, and he will “phase out” his research from now until November 30.

February 5, 2016: KI says it will issue a new external investigation of Macchiarini, examining questions about his recruitment and the handling of previous allegations of misconduct.

That same day, four whistleblowers release a statement arguing they had provided evidence of misconduct long before the SVT documentary series aired.

February 6, 2016: The secretary general of the Nobel Assembly — the body responsible for choosing the Nobel Prizes — resigns after saying “he may be involved” in KI’s investigation of Macchiarini.

February 9, 2016: KI confirms that Macchiarini’s CV did, in fact, contain inaccuracies when he applied for his adjunct position in 2010.

February 11, 2016: The Royal Swedish Academy of Science asks for a new investigation, and for changes to a 2011 Lancet paper, Science reports:

The Academy find it deeply unfortunate that the well-publicised report about the first operation with an artificial trachea, published in The Lancet in 2011, remains unchanged on the journal’s website. The Academy demands that a supplement is added to the journal, accounting for the further events, the complications and the patient’s death.

February 12, 2016: SVT releases additional short films comparing one patient’s medical record to what is reported in Macchiarini’s articles.

February 13, 2016Hamsten resigns, citing criticism of the investigation.

February 23, 2016: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences voices its concerns about Macchiarini’s 2011 Lancet paper, claiming it severely misrepresents the state of the patient who received the transplant, who experienced severe complications and eventually died.

March 15, 2016: A KI spokesperson confirms that a new ethics council will be appointed, but the new members have yet to be determined.

March 23, 2016: KI dismisses Macchiarini, effective immediately.

April 1, 2016: The Lancet issues an expression of concern for Macchiarini’s 2011 paper, and removes three more authors, upon their request.

Note: The timeline will be updated as new events occur in this ongoing case.

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Written by Alison McCook

February 12th, 2016 at 2:00 pm

  • Paul A. Thompson February 12, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Why is this guy a “super surgeon”? We read the allegations of violations of many types of dodgy practices. How many actual successes has he had with these edgy methods?

  • Phil February 12, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    Small editorial quibble: At no point in the article is “KI” defined. Who or what is KI?? (obviously this can be determined by a google search). In general, terms and acronyms should be defined or explained on first instance in an article so as to not presume prior knowledge on the part of the readers.

    • Ivan Oransky February 12, 2016 at 2:31 pm

      Fixed, thanks.

  • Torbjörn Larsson February 14, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    Since I am a local, I can add that: The Swedish Minister of Research has launched an investigation if and how Sweden can transit to a system with independent review of universities. [ ]

  • Turingsbrain February 14, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    I guess the quote from the Vanity Fair piece neatly sums it up:

    “Who the hell are you and what the hell is wrong with you?”

    Not sure how many people at KI read VF, but that story should have really set off every last alarm bell.

  • David Walker February 16, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    But KI *IS* defined.

    “However, the glow of his success was diminished somewhat after some Karolinska Institutet (KI) surgeons …”

    • Lee Rudolph February 16, 2016 at 7:27 pm

      That was the “fix” referred to by Ivan Oransky in his reply dated February 12, 2016 at 2:31 pm.

    • Marco February 17, 2016 at 1:31 am

      That’s because Ivan corrected it, David…

  • kristobel February 20, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    I would really like to watch the documentary Experimenten featuring Macchiarini. Unfortunately I only speak English – is anyone aware of a version available with English subtitles?

    • KI Student February 25, 2016 at 3:07 am

      Hello Kristobel!

      Part 1 is available on YouTube with English subtitles:

      The rest can be found on Swedish National TV, not sure if region restricted outside Sweden.
      (Parts 1-3 of 3)

      • kristobel March 3, 2016 at 6:27 am

        Hi KI Student, thank you for this. Although I can access this website and play the videos, unfortunately the parts in Swedish do not have English subtitles. Only Swedish subtitles are available seemingly.

  • geebee March 23, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    with investigations going back and forth, some of which have cleared maccariarini of ‘most’ charges, could this be another witch hunt ‘retraction watch’ is reporting on here?
    has maccariarini responded to any of the charges?
    if so, why does ‘retraction watch’ not provide access to them?
    will there be legal proceedings instituted against him?

    it seems to get easier and easier to dismantle individuals without giving them a platform to present their views…
    ‘retraction watch’ should focus on ‘retractions’ – not on destroying people who haven’t even been given a ‘fair and just’ trial.
    this all looks very fishy, to say the least.

  • MadisonMD March 28, 2016 at 12:24 am

    Macchiarini destroyed his own career and RW reported on it. Also RW did provide a platform for Macchiarini to present his views. You need only to click the second link in the blog post above to read it.

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