The following article provoked a response by Philipp Jungebluth’s lawyer, presented here. A sentence was changed following a court injunction against me, passed in my absence on 24.01.2017, declaring that he left his job entirely voluntarily.
The German surgeon-apprentice Philipp Jungebluth was student, most loyal acolyte and trusted right-hand man of the disgraced stem cell researcher Paolo Macchiarini. Jungebluth was part of most if not all trachea transplants performed by Macchiarini on their unlucky patients. Some new information I uncovered (despite best attempts at obfuscation) suggests that Jungebluth was recruited to the University Clinic Heidelberg from Sweden to develop a transplant technology of stem-cell regenerated 3D-printed plastic tracheas. The young surgeon-in-training and his Heidelberg host Hendrik Dienemann progressed to the stage of animal experiments, before Jungebluth left his position in Heidelberg to work a small communal clinic near Hannover.
The young German doctor started to work with trachea transplants in human patients under his mentor Macchiarini in Barcelona, in 2008. During this project, Jungebluth was part of the team which had been “regenerating” a cadaveric trachea (a section of a bronchus, precisely) with stem cell magic inside a veterinary lab of the University of Bristol, before the final product was flown to Barcelona and transplanted into Macchiarini’s young patient, Claudia Castillo. Not only were the British medical safety authorities not asked for permission, they were actually actively misled, as my earlier investigation revealed. The University of Bristol however simply declared all lab documentation as non-existent and sneakily deleted some press releases which contained uncomfortable information.
Jungebluth did this human experimenting as part of his medical doctorate thesis at the Hannover Medical School (MHH) in Germany, the official supervisor was Macchiarini (who still has his adjunct professorship at the MHH). The thesis is now being investigated by the university, as I learned from a fully reliable inside source at MHH, along with all other dissertations supervised by the MHH professor Macchiarini. Unfortunately, MHH’s press relations officer Stefan Zorn practically ceased even acknowledging my emails after my critical reporting about the regenerative medicine ambitions of the university’s most influential clinician and former Macchiarini boss, Axel Haverich. My insolence was apparently seen as a kind of lèse majesté against the MHH quasi-monarch Haverich, punished by cessation of communications.
The Hanoverian prize-winning student Jungebluth eagerly put his MD doctorate title after his name on the corresponding Lancet publication from 2008, though he actually received his degree at MHH only in 2010. This can actually be interpreted as title fraud, just as Jungebluth’s written claim to the Swedish Research Council that he had a PhD degree, on top of his MD. That was another fib, his German title of “Dr. med.”, as bestowed upon him by MHH, does not at all equate to a PhD degree. This is of course a very minor kind of misdemeanour compared to what else Jungebluth was active part of, in Sweden and in afterwards in Russia, mentioned in my earlier report.
Another Macchiarini-supervised doctorate dissertation now under investigation by MHH is that of Johannes Haag, who after his defence in 2012 followed his master to Sweden (utterly by coincidence, he is since 2015 employed at the same Thorax Clinic in Heidelberg as Jungebluth used to). The thesis itself is rather meagre, even for German standards for medical doctorate dissertations, and describes animal experimenting performed at the University of Florence, where Macchiarini used to have a position, until his professorship ambitions were thwarted by protests of colleagues and the maestro moved to Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Sweden. There is evidence that Haag’s thesis-central 2012 publication in Biomaterials contains image irregularities like most other Macchiarini papers. It is therefore yet another issue how trustworthy animal results published by the star surgeon and his team really are (see also reports here and here).
Which brings us back to Heidelberg. When I first contacted the Thorax Clinic of the University of Heidelberg, Jungebluth was still employed there. In March 2016, I received this email from the assistant to the executive board of the Thorax Clinic, Kirsten Gerlach (highlights mine):
“I am pleased to send you the statement of the executive board:
Dr. Philipp Jungebluth is employed as junior doctor in the Thorax Clinic since 2014. He is currently in the process of specialist training as thorax surgeon. He works scientifically in the area of regenerative medicine in the laboratory, on cells. The criticized therapy methods (transplantation of trachea or parts of trachea) are not being performed or offered in the Thorax Clinic -Heidelberg. We can offer no comment on the reported events at Karolinska-Institute (KI) in Stockholm, since these are not connected to the Thorax Clinic”.
It turned out, Gerlach (or in fact, the Clinic executive board, whose message she was relaying) did not tell me the exact truth. In fact it seems that the professorial leadership of a state-owned public medical institution wilfully misinformed a journalist. Why so?
There was this mysterious oral presentation from the 25th Anniversary Meeting of the German Society of Thoracic Surgery in September 2015:
FV 32 Orthotopic transplantation of a tracheal graft produced by 3-D printing (Orthotope Transplantation eines mittels 3-D Printing generierten trachealen Grafts)
Philipp Jungebluth (Heidelberg), Mei Ling Lim, Sebastian Sjöqvist (Stockholm/Schweden), Le Hoang Sinh, Harri Korhonen, Jukka Seppälä (Espoo/Finnland), Antti Mäkitie (Helsinki/Finnland), Hendrik Dienemann (Heidelberg).
Not cell culture work, as Gerlach declared, but trachea transplants, the research of which she categorically denied. I needed to find the abstract for this presentation to know more, so I asked Jungebluth’s senior co-author and superior, Hendrik Dienemann, who is also deputy director of the Thorax Clinic and thus one of the authors of the above statement relayed by his assistant Gerlach. Dienemann told me:
“There is nothing to add to the statement of Mrs. Gerlach and is in no contradiction to the abstract, which you can request from the President of that meeting or directly from Dr. Jungebluth”.
The president of the 2015 conference was Gunda Leschber, head of thorax surgery clinic at a Berlin hospital. Her secretary wrote to me:
“After consulting with Dr. Leschber, I would like to inform you that you have to contact Mr. Philipp Jungebluth in Heidelberg regarding the abstract. Dr. Leschber cannot help here”.
Both refusals to share the published abstract of a conference talk are of course ridiculous. Dienemann is the last author of that abstract, and Leschber in the conference organizer, thus in possession of all relevant documents and certainly of its abstract book. In fact, I got the abstract through a simple inquiry to the conference management office. Here it is, translated from German, and it quickly becomes rather obvious why Dienemann did not want me to get my hands on it:
“Objective: In this study, the method of 3-D Printings used to create a synthetic tracheal graft to generate and to evaluate them in the small animal model. The animal experiments were approved by the Local Ethics Committee for Animal Experiments.
Method: The Graft was developed using 3-D printing and on parameters of rat trachea. We used a polymer mixture consisting of poly (tetrahydrofuran) and Poly (dimethylsiloxane), which was subsequently investigated for biocompatibility. The graft was produced by means of mesenchymal stem cells of Sprague Dawley rats and over 48 hours in a bioreactor. Subsequently, the cell vitality and metabolic activity were measured. The tracheal grafts thus generated were finally implanted in recipients (n = 5, group I) and analysed after 14 days. As a control group (n = 5) non-seeded tracheal grafts (group II) were used.
Results: The tracheal grafts had good in vitro properties with regard to biocompatibility and mechanics. Using the bioreactor a sufficient cell re-population of the graft surface could be achieved. Experimental animals treated with the re-populated grafts reached the end of the study period of 14 days and were asymptomatic; group II animals died within the first four days and demonstrated obvious obstructions and inflammatory reactions of the graft. The grafts of group I showed first signs of an epithelialization after 14 days on (Panceratin-positive cells, H & E, SEM) and showed only minimal signs of granulation tissue.
Conclusion: The present study of 3-D printing-generated and stem-colonized tracheal grafts show first promising in vitro and in vivo data. Further studies are necessary to verify and optimize these early results”.
So whatever Dienemann meant to tell me, it makes no sense. Certainly not in view of this abstract from the 24th Anniversary Meeting of the German Society of Thoracic Surgery in 2014:
Generation of a tracheal graft and clinical transfer from bench to bedside and back to bench
P Jungebluth 1, JC Haag 2, ML Lim 2, S Sjöqvist 2, S Baiguera 2, Y Gustafsson 2, G Lemon 2, P Macchiarini 2, H Dienemann 1
1 Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg
2 Karolinska Institutet Stockholm
The abstract describes all Macchiarini’s tracheal transplants as successes, 9 cadaveric tracheas and 8 plastic ones are mentioned. All biological scaffolds are claimed to be fully vascularised, with “physiological mucosa and epithelialisation”, while the medical reality showed none of it whatsoever, only recurrent infections and tracheal collapses where patients’ lives had to be saved by stenting. There were also deaths (like that of Keziah Shorten, mentioned here), but also this Jungebluth et al chose to hide from their audience. Even the plastic transplants are claimed to be working excellently as well, except of the one made by Macchiarini’s former partner Alexander Seifalian out of POSS-PCU material (more on this money-related conflict in my report here). According to abstract authors, all operations received full ethics approval from authorities, which we now know was not always the case.
That at least six of these 8 plastic trachea recipients died horribly and painfully, with the real fate of one Russian patient unclear and with Yesim Cetir, a young woman from Turkey, losing many organs and almost her life in process. None of this is even hinted at in the highly dishonest German-language abstract.
For Dienemann and his co-authors, this trachea transplant technology was to become with time a “routine clinical application”. At his own Heidelberg University Clinic maybe, hence the animal experimenting? In fact, in a 2015 article in the German magazine Spiegel Online, the Heidelberg expert Jungebluth was excitingly talking about the potential of 3D-printed plastic trachea grafts. One wonders now if Dienemann intends to continue developing this plastic trachea technology after his junior partner was forced to leave?
I asked the responsible governmental authority, the Regierungspräsidium of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg (where Heidelberg is located) if Jungebluth indeed ever applied to perform these highly invasive, painful and lethal animal experiments and if he received such approvals, as the Heidelberg team claimed in the conference abstract. This is important since Jungebluth and Macchiarini were found to have broken many laws on animal experimenting in Sweden by performing animal trachea transplant studies without approval (see evaluation by Swedish Central Ethics Board). The Regierungspräsidium is investigating this now and promised to notify me soon.
Update 6.12.2016. It seems Jungebluth performed his Heidelberg trachea transplant experiments in rats illegally. This is the official statement I now received from the Regierungspräsidium:
“We can inform you after examining our files and checking with the Veterinary Office responsible for monitoring animal experiments, that Dr. Philipp Jungebluth whom you mentioned never applied for animal experimenting nor was granted any authorizations by the Regierungspräsidium. Dr. Philipp Jungebluth’s name is not known here”.
Update 10.12.2016. Jungebluth now works as junior doctor at a the surgery department of the Communal Hospital Wolfenbüttel, near Braunschweig and Hannover (both places where he used to work previously). He gave an interview to the Swedish magazine Expressen.