'Superstar' doctor fired for 'faking research success and lying to patients'

Stem cell pioneer denies allegations

A doctor once considered a superstar and pioneer in the field of stem cell research has been fired from his post amid claims of scientific negligence and falsification of his CV.

Sweden’s Karolinska University said Dr Paolo Macchiarini, who claims to have treated Pope Francis and President Obama, had been dismissed from his post with immediate effect.

The Italian led a team of surgeons who successfully carried out the first ever synthetic windpipe transplant using a windpipe partially constructed from the patient’s own stem cells.

But a statement issued by Karolinska University's HR manager, Mats Engelbrektson, said he was fired for a variety of reasons.

“It’s impossible for KI to have any kind of collaboration with Paolo Macchiarini any longer," the statement said.

“He has acted in a way that has had very tragic consequences for the people affected and their families. His conduct has seriously damaged confidence in KI and for research in general.”

Macchiarini - who denies the claims - first came under fire in 2015. Three surgeries performed at Karolinska were investigated two of which resulted in the death of a patient while the remaining patient remains in intensive care. 

External investigator Bengt Gerdin told Science Insider that data had been omitted from the medical records, leading him to conclude that there had been “a systemic misrepresentation of the truth that lead the reader to have a completely false impression of the success of the technique.”

However, the Vice Chancellor of Karolinska concluded at the time that Macchiarini was not guilty of misconduct. 

Though the first investigation did not lead to any repercussions for Macchiarini, he came under investigation again after a documentary screened on Swedish television alleging that he had been using his patients as human guinea pigs, continually applying new methods while operating on them despite having no conclusive evidence that the methods would improve their condition.

The documentary, Experimenten (Experiments), also presents evidence that Macchiarini told his patients prior to surgery that his methods had been tested on animals and proved successful where no animal testing had actually taken place. 

A woman is also shown receiving an engineered trachea from Macchiarini as part of a clinical trial at Kuban State Medical University in Krasnador, Russia. 

The women’s trachea had been damaged, but the documentary suggests that the injury was not life-threatening and she would have survived without the surgery. The women did not survive. 

Six of the eight patients who received a synthetic trachea transplant from Macchiarini have since died. 

A statement from the university says Macchiarini’s actions in Krasnador are “in breach of KI’s fundamental values and have damaged KI’s reputation.”

Macchiarini denied the allegations, telling Nature magazine: “I do not accept any of the findings of the [Karolinska] Disciplinary Board. I have instructed lawyers and will be taking immediate steps to restore my reputation.”

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