Organ Engineer Cleared of Some Misconduct Charges

An investigation has found the thoracic surgeon who transplanted artificial tracheae into patients not guilty of overhyping his research.

Apr 16, 2015
Bob Grant

An artificial trachea, similar to those transplanted by Macchiarini, made by seeding an inorganic scaffold with stem cellsUCLThe thoracic surgeon whose work creating and implanting artificial windpipes was questioned by colleagues last year has been cleared in the first of two internal investigations into his research and publication practices. Paolo Macchiarini, a visiting professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, fielded complaints from a colleague, head and neck surgeon Pierre Delaere of UZ Leuven in Belgium, which alleged that Macchiarini purposefully trumped up claims of success in several papers he published in The Lancet and engaged in data fabrication. Those accusations, first mentioned to Karolinska administrators in 2011, sparked an internal investigation after Delaere lodged a formal complaint last June. But on Tuesday (April 14), Karolinska officials announced that the institute’s ethics council found Macchiarini not guilty of those charges. “We find that the issues raised by Professor Delaere are of a philosophy-of-science kind rather than of a research-ethical kind,” the council said in a statement posted by Retraction Watch. “Professor Delaere’s allegations of scientific misconduct are unfounded.”

“We all felt terrible [about the investigation] because it affected our credibility, the credibility of my team,” Macchiarini told Science. “We are now happy that everything has been cleared.” The surgeon, who has maintained his innocence since the allegations went public, echoed the council’s findings. “As I have emphatically stated all along that the allegations from Dr. Delaere are unfounded,” he told Retraction Watch, “I am pleased that the Ethics Council has now also affirmed their lack of substance.”

Delaere told Science that he's disappointed with the conclusion reached by the ethics council, saying that he is “stunned about such outright injustice.”

Macchiarini still faces an accusation—levied last year by researchers at the Karolinska University Hospital—that he failed to obtain proper informed consent from patients receiving engineered tracheae seeded with their own stem cells. The internal investigation into those claims is still ongoing, according to the Karolinska Institute.

Meanwhile, Macchiarini told Science that he no longer works on tracheae; he’s now focusing his research on engineering lung, heart, and other organs for transplantation as well as cell therapy to aid in tissue regeneration.