Karolinska Institute in Solna. Photo Bertil Ericson/TT.
Karolinska Institute in Solna. Photo Bertil Ericson/TT.

Karolinska to review case of criticised transplant surgeon

"We need a review of everything that has happened"
3:37 min

The board of the Karolinska Institute will investigate how it handled a visiting surgeon who has been transplanting artificial windpipes into several patients, despite an independent investigator finding that he had committed misconduct.

The surgeon Paolo Macchiarini has carried out eight operations to give patients artificial windpipes (tracheae) coated in their own stem cells. Three of the operations have been carried out at Karolinska, five abroad. Only two of the patients have survived, but with serious complications.

An official complaint against Macchiarini was filed in 2014 by several doctors at Karolinska. They claimed that the description of the patients' condition in various scientific papers left out complications and that medical records were at odds with the positive description of patients' developments.

An independent investigation, commissioned by Karolinska, found last year that there were significant discrepancies between the available medical records and the published results, and that the discrepancies constituted misconduct. There were also questions about the ethical permission for the surgeries.

But Karolinska decided that Macchiarini and his co-authors could convincingly and satisfactorily contest the criticism and that "there is nothing to support the complainant's suspicions of scientific misconduct", Science Magazine reported last summer.

Now a new series of documentaries by Swedish Television (SVT) about the surgeon has caused the board at Karolinska to react.

"We feel that after the discussions over the past few days we need a review of everything that has happened at the Karolinska Institute in this affair," Lars Leijonborg, the chairman of the board told Swedish Radio News on Sunday evening.

Among the things that will be investigated, said Leijonborg, are the claims that the surgeon has falsified parts of his CV, and also claims that operations that he carried out in Russia did not live up to the ethical standards that are set for employees at the Karolinska Institute.

Even if the operations in Russia were what Leijonborg calls "a job he did on the side", in other words not at Karolinska, the ethical standards must be upheld by the surgeon at all times, said Leijonborg. The investigation will also consider the demands from critics who say Macchiarini should never have been recruited.

The Swedish Research Council has also demanded an independent investigation into how Karolinska Institute handled the case around the surgeon, reports TT. According to SVT, Leijonborg also wants an independent review.

The Minister for Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson told Swedish Radio News that she welcomes an investigation, and is concerned how the case may have implications for the reputation of research carried out in Sweden.

"We must have zero tolerance against scientific fraud," she said.

The government has already started an investigation to review the guidelines how to deal with fake research and it will also consider whether there ought to be an independent body to turn to when scientific fraud is suspected.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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