By Genevieve Lewis
Once a world renowned and celebrated surgeon, Dr. Paolo Macchiarini (MD, PhD), is being investigated by Swedish prosecutors for the manslaughter of two patients, and two possible counts of causing bodily harm.
Dr. Macchiarini became high-demand when he performed the first airway transplant with a team in Barcelona, Spain in 2008 using a donor trachea covered in the patient’s own stem cells. Following the procedure, Dr. Macchiarini became a visiting professor at the Karolinska Institute medical school in Stockholm, Sweden, researching regenerative medicine. There, he performed trachea transplants using synthetic trachea scaffold from a Nano-composite polymer and coating it with the patient’s own stem cells.
In the state of Illinois in 2013, Dr. Macchiarini performed a transplant on a toddler, Heather Warren, who was born without a trachea. She died of postoperative complications a year after her initial transplant. Later that year, Dr. Macchiarini was fired from Karolinska after he “demonstrated scientific negligence” by including false and misleading information in papers, damaging the institution’s reputation. The institute also discontinued synthetic trachea transplants. Of the five surgeries he performed, two of the patients died. His reputation took another hit in January of 2016 when Vanity Fair published a story revealing that not all the academic degrees and positions on the surgeon’s resume were true, written by Adam Ciralsky.
Afterwards, a three-part documentary about Dr. Macchiarini’s medical career aired on Swedish television that implied not all his patients were fully informed of the surgical risks. Furthermore, it depicted one patient as not being terminally ill when she received the first of two synthetic tracheas. The Karolinska Institute justified the risky and experimental procedures by saying all patients were in fact terminally ill.
Dr. Hamsten and the dean of research of the Karolinska Institute resigned following the allegations, as did the secretary of the Nobel Prize committee in order to protect the Nobel Prize’s reputation.
Björn Hurtig, who represents Dr. Macchiarini, emailed Medscape Medical News that an ex-colleague of Dr. Macchiarini’s from the Karolinska Institute instigated the accusations. The same colleague had previously been found guilty of plagiarizing Dr. Macchiarini’s research.
If the allegations are indeed true, Dr. Macchiarini faces up to six years in prison.
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