Investigated for Manslaughter, 'Disgraced' Surgeon Gets 16 Months

Marcia Frellick 

December 03, 2019

Paolo Macchiarini, MD, PhD, who faked research to claim patients with failing tracheas could regenerate functioning ones with their own stem cells, has received a 16-month prison sentence for forging documents and abuse of office, BMJ reports.

BMJ said the "disgraced surgeon," who was once investigated for manslaughter after some of his patients died, was sentenced in an appeals court in Florence, Italy, for providing a free bronchoscopy at the Careggi University Hospital for a friend who did not have a European health card and therefore was not entitled to free treatment.

Dr Paolo Macchiarini (EPA/Shutterstock)

"Macchiarini was also found guilty of hiding the patient's discharge records to conceal his involvement," BMJ reported.
His lawyer, Francesco Bevacqua, said Macchiarini will appeal, according to the BMJ report published online on November 25.

First Transplant in 2008

In 2008, news organizations, including WebMD Health News, reported that the first transplant with a trachea generated from a patient's own stem cells had been performed at Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, Spain.

Macchiarini stripped away cells from a deceased trachea donor that could have caused a host rejection, then seeded the scaffold with stem cells from the young woman's own bone marrow to grow a new trachea. Because the stem cells were her own, the woman did not need immunosuppressant drugs.

"According to Macchiarini and his colleagues," an article in The Guardian reported, "her artificial organ was well on the way to looking and functioning liked a natural one."

Medscape Medical News reported that he then altered the approach by making a synthetic trachea scaffold from a nanocomposite polymer and coating it with the patient's stem cells. He performed this procedure for the first time in 2011 at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden.

Investigated for Manslaughter

However, by June 2016, Macchiarini was being investigated by Swedish prosecutors for involuntary manslaughter.

Macchiarini, then 57, was under scrutiny in connection with the deaths of two trachea transplant patients and bodily harm done to two other patients who survived their operations. The manslaughter charges were later dropped because criminal intent could not be proven since the patients might have died regardless of the transplants.

The Lancet also retracted two of his research papers.

According to BMJ, "one biomedical researcher has documented a total of 20 Macchiarini tracheal regeneration procedures — in Russia, Spain, the UK, and the US, and as well as Sweden. Only three of the 20 recipients are still alive."

The investigation looked into whether the experimental procedures were based on legitimate research and whether Macchiarini obtained proper consent. The investigation followed his firing from the Karolinska Institute, which said it fired him because, among other things, he had "demonstrated scientific negligence," supplied false or misleading information about academic posts in a resume submitted to the institute, and damaged its reputation, Medscape Medical News reported.

The allegations instigated an international scandal. Reuters reported in August 2016 that the reputation of the Karolinska Institute, which awards the Nobel prize for medicine, had been badly damaged by allegations that patients died as a result of Macchiarini performing experimental operations without clearance.

Karolinska Institute had employed Macchiarini since 2010 and the allegations led to the resignation of the secretary of the Nobel Committee at the Institute and to calls for the award for medicine to be scrapped for 2 years.

In 2018, the institute said seven researchers were responsible for scientific misconduct in a case involving six research articles coauthored by Macchiarini.

An article in Vanity Fair reported that Macchiarini, who was born in Switzerland, came to the United States in 1990 where, "according to his curriculum vitae, he did a fellowship in thoracic surgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham."

Macchiarini once compared himself in a 2012 The Lancet article to "a wild animal that does not need to be in a cage. I need to express my convictions that I can help a patient with innovative things," he said.

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