Italian thoracic surgeon Paolo Macchiarini and six of his colleagues, one of whom was a whistleblower, have been found guilty of scientific misconduct in the latest investigation into the infamous researcher’s work by his former institution, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. In a statement published yesterday (June 25), the Institute announced that an analysis of six articles published across four journals had discovered inaccuracies, misleading information, data fabrication, unjustified treatments, and a lack of appropriate ethical approvals. An additional 31 authors were deemed “blameworthy” for their contributions to the publications.
“This decision has been made after careful investigations in a case that has had major impact on Karolinska Institutet, on the scientific community at large, and on public confidence in medical research,” the Karolinska Institute’s president, Ole Petter Ottersen, says in the statement. “In particular, the case has had tragic consequences for patients and their relatives, for which I am deeply sorry. Karolinska Institutet will now continue to implement the measures that are necessary to prevent something like this from happening again.”
Macchiarini’s research centered on a radical approach to tracheal transplantation that involved seeding bioengineered windpipes with a patient’s own stem cells. His work became the subject of multiple investigations following the deaths of several patients, along with allegations of ethical oversights and data fabrication.
Macchiarini himself was found guilty of scientific misconduct by the Karolinska Institute (KI) at the end of 2016, along with three coauthors, following an investigation relating to a paper published in Nature Communications in 2014. That paper was retracted in March, 2017. The latest announcement by the institution requests the retraction of all six articles examined in the investigation, all of which were published between 2011 and 2014, mirroring recommendations made by Sweden’s Central Ethics Review Board after its own investigation in 2017.
A spokesperson for The Lancet, where two of the papers were published, tells Retraction Watch, “We welcome the report from the Karolinska Institute. We will study their findings and conclusions carefully and respond as soon as possible.”
Regarding the decision to find one of the four whistleblowers guilty of misconduct, Ottersen notes that “it is KI’s firm opinion that a whistle blower who has participated in a scientific study and also as author of a scientific article, despite reporting, cannot be freed from blame or absolved from responsibility.”