The indestructible Swedish regenerative medicine researcher Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson could have been stopped early on, and a patient of hers could have been alive still. The former professor at the Karolinska Institutet (KI) was caught faking data in 2009. A paper had to be retracted as consequence (Elsheikh et al, Blood, 2005) , but in 2011 the entire external investigation and its results was declared nil and void by the Swedish Research Council Vetenskapsrådet (VR) which had originally commissioned it. The reasons used back then were rather incomprehensible, it boiled down to the accusations against the two investigators themselves, of having found research misconduct where they were not supposed to find research misconduct (for details, see my earlier report). To top it off, all frozen funding of this cheater professor was reinstituted and the University of Gothenburg together with its Sahlgrenska University Hospital welcomed Sumitran-Holgersson as a “genius”. There, at the Department of Surgery at the Sahlgrenska Academy she established a hub of regenerative medicine, helped by her husband Jan Holgersson (whose company had been threatening his wife’s investigators, silently condoned by VR), and by the head surgeon Michael Olausson. Together, Sumitran-Holgersson and Olausson produced a string of regenerative medicine papers of which the University of Gothenburg and Sahlgrenska used to be very proud. Maybe less so these days, since a rich evidence of fresh data manipulations surfaced on PubPeer several months ago (see examples here). Meanwhile, part of Sumitran-Holgersson’s tremendous funding has been frozen, though VR still maintains their trust in her research. Apparently, also the Sahlgrenska Academy of Gothenburg.
The tide is turning for the fallen star surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who transplanted numerous patients with lethal tracheas made out of dead donor organs or plastic and sprinkled with cells from the bone marrow. Just when Macchiarini started to became the synonym for everything what is bad and evil in regenerative medicine, after two damning investigations by his former employers Karolinska Institutet (KI) and the Karolinska University Hospital, things began to change for the better.
In a surprising decision, the Italian court in Florence cleared the former head surgeon of Careggi Hospital of all accusations of fraud (Macchiarini was accused of extortion, namely of huge sums from patient families while offering to save the terminally ill). This court decision prompted the Tuscan governor Enrico Rossi to immediately lament the loss of a “great surgeon”, who would have done so much good if he only remained in Florence, under proper control. Back in 2010, this politician’s exalting letter of recommendation helped Macchiarini to get the KI professorship despite the many negative references from his medical colleagues.
The following guest post by a Swedish professor under the assumed name of ”Frank Nilsson” (his real identity is known to me) is an open letter response to a recent article in Svenska Dagbladet by Sven Stafström, Director General of the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet, VR). There Straftröm wrote, in the wake of the Paolo Macchiarini scandal:
“Research misconduct is rare, but when it occurs it is usually individuals or small research teams working under the strong influence of a dishonest research leader. Such a closed environment makes it more difficult to quickly detect cheating. […]
The main responsibility for combating scientific fraud through preventive measures and for investigating suspected fraud and taking action is the responsibility of the country’s universities and colleges – the research organizations. […]
Of course it is also crucial to handle the matter properly, when suspicions of scientific misconduct occur. The Swedish Research Council has repeatedly argued that this should be done in a manner that guarantees independence from the influence of personal connections and other conflicts of interest, research misconduct should be investigated by an independent body”.
The Swiss publishing business Frontiers was placed by the US librarian Jeffrey Beall on his well-known and hotly disputed list as “potential, possible or probable predatory publisher”. Frontiers however was not prepared to take this lying down. The publisher’s Executive Editor Frederick Fenter first tried it nicely. Shortly before Christmas 2015, he flew to visit Beall at his University of Colorado in Denver, with the senior manager Mirjam Curno in tow. Curno is incidentally also board member and trustee of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Afterwards, Fenter stopped being nice. In August 2016, he bombarded around ten senior officials at the University Colorado in Denver with letters and a dossier (see below) demanding that they make sure Frontiers is removed from their employee’s private list.
Thing is: University of Colorado has nothing to do with the so-called Beall’s List. The list is part of the librarians private blog on WordPress (same platform I use). In fact, this is the disclaimer which Beall placed on his site clear for all to see:
“These views represent the personal opinions of the author (Jeffrey Beall) and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado System”.
The following article provoked a response by Philipp Jungebluth’s lawyer, presented here. The title was changed following a court injunction against me, passed in my absence on 24.01.2017, declaring that he left his job entirely voluntarily.
In the wake of the scandal around the fallen star surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, his German acolyte Philipp Jungebluth now left his job as resident/junior doctor (Assistenzarzt) in Heidelberg in the Thoraxklinik at Heidelberg University Hospital.
This is what Kirsten Gerlach, assistant to the clinic director, told me today:
“Dr. Jungebluth is no longer employed at the Thoraxklinik, Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg. He left the Klinikum at his own request“.
Update 13.09.2016: Gerlach now specified to me in another email:
“Dr. Jungebluth left the Thoraxklinik on 31. August 2016 at his own request”.
Jungebluth was Macchiarini’s award-winning medicine graduate at the Hannover Medical University (MHH), which had huge plans on regenerative medicine back then, with living tracheas, lungs and hearts growing inside plastic boxes. The loyal young graduate then followed his idol Macchiarini to Spain, Russia and Sweden, where he hands-on participated in their disastrous trachea transplantations. In a 2012 article in Deutschlandfunk, Jungebluth insinuated against better knowledge that “regenerated” plastic tracheas were first tested on mice and rats, before human subjects were tricked into sacriﬁcing their lives. Yet there was no advance animal testing, as Macchiarini eventually admitted it.
The aftermath of the Paolo Macchiarini scandal: many dead or mutilated trachea transplant patients, many stellar academic careers destroyed or damaged beyond repair, the reputation of the once world leading Karolinska Institutet (KI) in shatters and even the Nobel Prize itself is dented. The latter is because several members of the 50-head strong committee of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine were forced to resign:
- Urban Lendahl, KI professor of genetics, quit his postas Nobel Committee Secretary General already in February, due to his involvement into Macchiarini recruitment. Lendahl also used to be Macchiarini’s superior, as director of three research centres in stem cell research and regenerative medicine: DBRM, StratRegen and WIRM(the Wallenberg Institute for Regenerative Medicine).
- Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, former KI Dean of Research resigned from this post and Nobel Committee in February 2016. Ljunggren decreedin August 2015 together with the then-Rector Anders Hamsten that Macchiarini did not commit any misconduct, and trashed the results of the Bengt Gerdin investigation.
- Katarina Le Blanc, immunology professor and Macchiarini co-author, who is apparently herself under investigation on suspicion of misconduct and data manipulation.
- Anders Hamsten and Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson were asked to resign by the new Secretary of the Nobel Assembly, Thomas Perlmann, after the KI report was published. Both ex-Rectors played a crucial role in the Macchiarini recruitment and the cover-up of his patient abuse and misconduct.
Two more members of the Committee were possibly asked to step down, but this information is not confirmed. Bo Risberg, emeritus professor of surgery at the University of Gothenburg and longstanding Macchiarini critic (see his earlier guest post for my website), proposed “a moratorium for two years to the Nobel prize” and for the award money to be donated to Macchiarini’s victims and their families.
The corrupt Ethics Council of KI was dissolved by the new Rector Karin Dahlman-Wright, other heads rolled as well. Two investigations, one by KI and one by Karolinska University Hospital revealed a culture of cover-up and disregard for basic research integrity and medical ethics. Meanwhile, the entire KI University Board was dismissed by a governmental decision.
What drove so many scientists and doctors to support Macchiarini and his outrageous visions? It seems, the driving force was, just as elsewhere in science, greed. Greed for research funding and the fame and power it brings. And Macchiarini attracted many millions of Kronen, Euros, Dollars and even Roubels, and he kept promising even more. It seems the lust for money and fame made everyone at Karolinska switch off their brains. As the result, innocent people have died.
The research misconduct scandal around the former star plant scientist, CNRS research director and currently ETH Zürich professor Oliver Voinnet is not over, and finally also some of his close collaborators and possible “partners in crime” start to feel the heat. One of Voinnet’s former co-authors is now being investigated by the French research society CNRS and the Swiss university ETH Zürich, according to the available information. It is likely to be Guillaume Moissiard.
A reader notified me about this September 8th 2016 news release on the site AlphaGalileo:
“Scientific misconduct: CNRS and ETH Zurich are setting up a commission of inquiry
Over the past few weeks, serious doubt has emerged regarding the figures featuring in several Molecular Biology publications. The CNRS and ETH Zurich have decided to set up a scientific commission of inquiry, with CNRS in the lead and contribution from ETH Zurich, which will be composed of experts. Their role will be to establish the facts.
In this context, institutions have a duty to act in strict compliance with ethical standards, which do not allow any public statement to be issued prior to completion of the process in order to ensure that an in-depth analysis is carried out, in which all parties can freely express their views. In the same logic and to guarantee that the inquiry is conducted serenely, the name of the experts forming part of the commission cannot be disclosed at this stage.
When the process is completed, the two institutions will decide if disciplinary measures have to be taken. The results and the consequences of the inquiry will then be made public”.