Anders Hamsten avgår som rektor för Karolinska Institutet. Foto Jonas Ekströmer / TT
Professor Anders Hamsten, vice-chancellor of the Karolinska Institutet. Photo Jonas Ekströmer / TT Credit: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Karolinska Institutet rector resigns

Investigator Kjell Asplund: "Was the technology mature enough to be implemented in humans?"
4:29 min

After new information was revealed about surgeon Paolo Macchiarini and his research group, including the suspected manipulation of pictures used in two reports, the vice-chancellor of the prestigious Karolinska Institutet announced early Saturday morning that he would resign his post.

Daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter claims that images used in two different studies published by Macchiarini were reused and manipulated in certain instances. The studies they refer to deal with animal and cell-culture experiments and were published by the journals Biomaterials and Nature Protocols.

The newspaper says that it appears the reports reuse the same pictures with certain manipulations to demonstrate a before-and-after effect for experiments on animals using artificial tracheas. The paper also speculates that the reuse of pictures indicates fewer animal tests were performed than had been claimed.

Saturday Professor Anders Hamsten wrote in daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter that the "Macchiarini affair" "has substantially shaken confidence in medical research in general and in Karolinska Institutet in particular during the last few weeks."

Macchiarini is suspected of sidestepping ethical protocol and exaggerating about the success of his transplantations of artificial trachea, among other things. Of eight implantations, six of the patients have since died. Three of those surgeries were conducted at Karolinska. Macchiarini was reported by colleagues at Karolinska for discrepancies between journal articles and the logs of his patients, which showed severe complications from his surgeries.

An inquiry into the allegations of scientific misconduct was closed in August of 2015, in favor of Macchiarini. But a revealing three-part Swedish Television documentary released in January brought suspicions to the surface again. Hamsten wrote in DN that new information about the surgeon made it clear that Karolinska's inquiry into scientific misconduct, under Hamsten's lead, should have been conducted more carefully.

The scandal has been covered in some international media, and there has been concern that it will tarnish the reputation of Karolinska, which is the sole arbiter of the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

"I failed to see the warning signs. Confidence in me as Vice-Chancellor of KI has been impaired both among the public, the research community and KI's staff and students. It will be difficult for me to continue to act as Vice-Chancellor of Sweden's most successful university with credibility and effectiveness. For that reason I am resigning my post," wrote Hamsten in an English-language version of his Dagens Nyheter announcement.

A new vice-chancellor would be appointed, according to a statement on Karolinska's website, "by the government based on a proposal from the university board. Meanwhile, pro-vice-chancellor Karin Dahlman-Wright will serve as vice-chancellor."

Daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet spoke with Dahlman-Wright who said she had already called for a crisis meeting Saturday afternoon.

"We will try to regain credibility and come up with a short-term plan for it. In the longer term, we haven't had time to think it over yet. But it's clear that this has damaged KI's credibility. It is an extremely serious situation," she said to the newspaper.

Friday, an independent investigator was chosen to look into the clinical procedures around Paolo Macchiarini's three surgeries at the Karolinska University Hospital. Kjell Asplund, a retired professor of medicine and current chair of the National Ethics Council in Sweden, was given the task after the hospital was criticized for first choosing an employee to lead the inquiry.

Speaking with Radio Sweden Asplund said his inquiry, one of many revolving around the embattled surgeon, would look at the healthcare side of the surgeries conducted at the hospital, a related but separate institution from the Karolinska Institutet.

"We will look at the decisions that were taken, first to adopt this new method in humans at all. And then for each individual patient, what were the circumstances when the decisions were taken? Were there any guidelines and how were they followed? How were the patients treated after the surgery? And what were the circumstances when Macchiarini was appointed at the hospital? And what happened when the decision was taken that he should no longer operate?"

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