This is the story of three tracheal transplants, performed by the husband and wife team Thorsten Walles and Heike Mertsching (now Walles), former collaborators of Paolo Macchiarini. My investigation quickly led to the Walles couple setting their lawyer on me, demanding almost €3000 immediately and up to €100,000 later. Update: 2 weeks later, they had a Bavarian court sentence me behind my back to a €250,000 fine or 6 months prison term, read here. All because of a single short paragraph from this Macchiarini story, which mentioned their earlier activities. None of their current or former employers nor their lawyer chose to share any specific information about the 3 tracheal transplants, and the fate of these 3 patients.
Macchiarini and the Walleses started their tracheal transplant activities at the Hannover Medical School (MHH), under the regenerative medicine enthusiast Axel Haverich. Together, the team implanted in 2003 a tracheal patch into a cancer patient using a piece of pig intestine, and moved their separate ways soon afterwards. Macchiarini went in 2004 to Barcelona, where he had his famous trachea transplant breakthrough in 2008 (see my report here). The Walles couple went in the same year to Stuttgart in southern Germany. The thorax surgeon Thorsten to the Robert Bosch Hospital, Clinic Schillerhöhe, the regenerative medicine-specialising biologist Heike (back then carrying the name of her previous husband, Mertsching) became professor at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (Fraunhofer IGB). There, the husband and wife team transplanted between 2007 and 2009 two more patients with tracheal replacements made from pig intestine. The clinical success and the actual performance of these transplants is unclear, it is also not helpful that authors chose to omit certain key aspects when the two cases were eventually published. Continue reading “Untangling forgotten tracheal transplants of Heike and Thorsten Walles, who set a lawyer upon me”