Lawyering-up Medicine Open Letter

Open Letter in support of my investigation of trachea transplants in Germany, by Rafael Cantera

Below a support letter by Rafael Cantera, professor of zoology at the University of Stockholm in Sweden, addressed to the leadership of the University Clinic Würzburg. This is because two professors of this German university, Thorsten Walles and Heike Mertsching (now Walles) chose to respond to my inquiries about their earlier trachea transplants made from pig intestine (see my detailed report here) with lawyers’ financial blackmail and right after, with court actions, which had me sentenced guilty with a  threat of a prison term of 6 months, without my prior knowledge (see case description here). Such are the peculiarities of German law: internet bloggers are basically  legally defined here by default as criminals, and professors as infallible and divine beings (in fact, even Walleses’ former boss and collaborator Paolo Macchiarini is still a protected adjunct professor at their former common place of work, the Medical University Hannover). I received lots of support from my readers, and was also invited to give an interview with the French magazine Mediapart (German version here). Now, I am deeply grateful to Prof. Cantera for his support, and hope other international and maybe even German academics join in and sign below. 

Rafael Cantera, author of Open Letter below (source: Stockholm University)

A conspiracy of German institutions against freedom of information

The Walleses even admitted to their judge in Würzburg that they did receive my questions in advance, but chose not to reply to them. They instead even revealed to the court their immediate intentions to find out my private address and had me slapped with a costly court injunction and a threat of a prison term, from the very beginning. The judge however apparently saw my act of asking inconvenient questions alone as an act of blasphemy against German professors.  The only  evidence against me which this Würzburg regional court judge actually bothered to scrutinise was the Walleses’ academic employment situation and their current applications to new professorships. That “evidence” fully sufficed to declare me guilty of slanderous libel against two German professors, what I actually wrote about their trachea transplants on my site was utterly irrelevant in this context. It was enough that the Walleses did not like it.

While they and their pricey lawyer prepared this legal attack on basic freedoms of speech and press, their employers, the University of Würzburg and the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology in Stuttgart, repeatedly refused to answer any of my questions regarding those 3 tracheal transplants, even when requested to do so under legally binding freedom of information law. Most recently, I asked the Fraunhofer institute to explain if any animal testing at all was performed before their researcher Heike Walles delivered in 2007 and 2009 pig-intestine-derived tracheal grafts which her husband then implanted into two patients. The internet biomedical portal PubMed suggests that to the very least, no animal experiments at all were published by the Walleses in this regard, before or after the method was initially first tested on a human patient together with Macchiarini in Hannover in 2004.

Update 23.01.2017: The Fraunhofer Institute admitted that no animal testing was deemed necessary prior to two patient transplants. Details here.

Instead answering my questions, the University Clinic of Würzburg allowed their two professors to use these affiliations to suggest that they were actually acting in court against me as representatives of the entire University Clinic. It went as far that both the University and the University Clinic Würzburg refused to even acknowledge receiving my administrative complaints about their two professors, never mind processing those. My freedom of information inquiries to the German Ministry of Education and Research and the medicinal product watchdog Paul-Ehrlich-Institut about the Walles’ ministry-funded clinical trial and about the approvals for their previous trachea transplants, are as yet unanswered, even after the legally binding time period of one month to deliver a reply has long expired. It is none of nosy public’s business if human experiments in German research institutions (with none of the affected patients being currently alive) were ever properly approved  or, if indeed these experiments actually still take place or are being prepared. The status of the aforementioned federally-funded multi-patient clinical trial with pig intestine-made trachea is confidential and not for us to know. If you want to speak of academic conspiracy in Germany, here is a big and a highly unsavoury one.

In fact, the Walles’ lawyer just sent me another threatening letter, demanding of me to accept the court injunction, pay his clients an unspecified compensation damage and him around €1800 lawyer’s fee.

Don’t you dare ask questions about their trachea transplants, or you’ll go to prison. These are two German professors and the law is on their side. Thorsten and Heike Walles, image source: University of Würzburg.

Open Letter in support of Schneider’s investigation of trachea transplants in Germany, by Rafael Cantera

Prof. Dr. med. Georg Ertl, Medical Director University Clinic Würzburg, Germany.

Prof. Dr. med. Matthias Frosch, Dean of Medical Faculty, University of Würzburg, Würzburg, Germany.

c/c Leonid Schneider

January 15, 2017

Dear colleagues,

For months I’ve been reading in the Swedish press as well as on Leonid Schneider’s blog For Better Science many notes about the scandalous trachea transplantations on human patients in which Dr. Paolo Macchiarini has been involved and for which he’s been, and is still investigated in Sweden. This was an extraordinary scandal for the Karolinska Institute and the Karolinska University Hospital; it has already resulted in several resignations and investigations, including a police investigation of Macchiarini himself. Fortunately, the Swedish authorities and academy adopted an open, self-critical and transparent reaction and in due process questions from journalists were answered, documents were made public, investigations were initiated and conclusions were reported to the public. For his fantastic journalistic investigation of this story  “of fraudulent research” that “revealed life-threatening ambition in the academic world” the Swedish journalist Bo Lindquist was awarded the Swedish Grand Prize for Journalism in 2016.

In spite of that, according to the Swedish press and academic colleagues of mine in Sweden and other countries this scandal might have negative, perhaps long-lasting consequences on the public trust and confidence in science and medicine and so, in my opinion, it deserves to be investigated to the last link and detail. If the public trust is to be restored, every trachea transplantation in which Macchiarini and his collaborators were directly or indirectly involved should be investigated and the results must be clearly and openly reported to the public. In doing so, which as a scientist I think is necessary and important, Leonid Schneider started to investigate the activities of the German professors Heike and Thorsten Walles, who were also involved in trachea transplantations and had professional links to Macchiarini and his activities (primarily: Macchiarini et al 2004 and Walles et al, 2004).

Now, after reading about the court trial in Bavaria against Leonid Schneider, I have the unpleasant feeling that it is perhaps the intent to punish him for his investigations and to avoid further investigations of possible misconduct in German universities regarding Macchiarini-related trachea transplantations. This feeling will be supported if it was correct, I as was told, that both research institutions involved, namely the Fraunhofer Society and the University of Würzburg refused to answer questions regarding the two experimental trachea transplants on human patients they performed and later on published (Mertsching et al 2009  and Steinke et al, 2015 ). Moreover, it appears that Professors Walles acted apparently with full approval of their academic employer by using their academic affiliations with the University Clinic Würzburg. The outcome was a court injunction passed in absentia against Leonid Schneider forbidding him to state facts which Professors Walles themselves had been repeating often and widely just some years ago in interviews, press releases, books and research publications.

Leonid Schneider can count with my support and I hope you will also help him in his important investigation, answering his questions and providing as much information as you can disclose.

Yours sincerely,

Rafael Cantera, PhD


Zoology Institute, Stockholm University

Stockholm, Sweden

Dear readers, If you wish to express your support as well, please comment with your full name and institutional affiliation below.

If you would like to support my court litigation financially, donation amount doesn’t matter, please go to my Patreon site or contact me


If you are interested to support my work, you can leave here a small tip of $5. Or several of small tips, just increase the amount as you like (2x=€10; 5x=€25). Your generous patronage of my journalism will be most appreciated!


Update 4.02.2017. The signatories of this letter have been subjected to an “alternative facts” campaign by Walles’ employee Jan Hansmann. Details here.

228 comments on “Open Letter in support of my investigation of trachea transplants in Germany, by Rafael Cantera

  1. Theodore S Dibbble

    I stand with Professor Cantera in support of Leonid Schneider.

    Theodore S. Dibble
    Professor of Chemistry
    State University of New York- College of Environmental Science and Forestry
    Syracuse, NY USA

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr David Foreman FRCPsych FRCPCH

      Living in the British Isles, I was very aware of how important investigative journalism was in unmasking Andrew Wakefield, which proved beyond the powers of the academic establishment, despite their commitment to research transparency. Legal and professional action could only follow when journalists placed the full facts in the public domain. We have also had attempts by homeopaths to use the law to gag those researchers who discovered their treatments did not work. Leonid Schneider is currently asking questions which, to my knowledge, have not been answered. Germany knows better than many countries about the danger of allowing legal procedure to hide wrongdoing. I hope that will not be the case here
      Dr David Foreman FRCPsych FRCPCH
      King’s College London
      (this comment was made in a personal capacity)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree entirely with Professor Cantera. There is much that is hidden about this work and in the interests of medical ethics and the trust of the public in science and medicine it is important that bright sunlight is allowed to shine in the many dark corners in the different countries (not just Germany and Sweden) involved in this disgraceful saga.

    Professor David G Fernig
    Professor of Biological Chemistry
    Department of Biochemistry
    Institute of Integrative Biology
    University of Liverpool
    Liverpool, UK

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Raphaël Lévy

    Count me in.

    Dr Raphael Levy
    Department of Biochemistry
    Institute of Integrative Biology
    University of Liverpool
    Liverpool, UK

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am not a Professor, but a Pharmacist working in UK and everyday I have to check prescriptions and advice patients. I can see many useful drugs in the shelves of the pharmacies what corresponds to brilliant science work by many several different scientists. For these reasons I believe it is important to shed light in cases like the Walles and many others around the world.
    I believe Leonid is doing a wonderful job not only for the sake of science but also for the sake of patient’s good health and must be fully supported in his endeavours

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Shame on those pseudo Germans that refuse to take responsibility for their acts…
    Juan Jovel, Ph.D.
    Department of Medicine, University of Alberta
    7-142 KATZ Group Centre for Pharmacy & Health Research
    (114 Street & 87 Avenue)
    Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2E1
    Phone: 780 492-1934 (7th floor)
    780 492-6902 (4th floor)
    Fax: 780 492-7593
    twitter: @jovel_juan

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Freedom of the press should be protected.

    Wim Crusio
    Research Director, CNRS
    Bordeaux, France

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Let’s be clear. This is a case of an independent journalist who is threatened with imprisonment and/or financial ruin for repeating facts already in the public domain. As a historian and as someone who tries to be a decent human being, such a situation scares the hell out of me. Is Germany becoming some sort of tin-pot dictatorship, in which justice belongs to the rich and powerful while ordinary citizens are unprotected? Wait and see.
    Faye Getz, Ph.D.
    Independent Historian
    Somewhere in Rhode Island

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Such prosecutorial zeal infringes on academic freedom, freedom of the press, and the right to a fair trial.

    Chris HJ Hartgerink
    Tilburg University, NLD

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I strongly support Dr. Cantera’s initiative to denounce the violation of freedom of speak of Dr. Schneider, that apparently the german govement grants to scientist according to unknown and obscure criteria. I regard this verdict as highly undemocratic, fascist, and absolutely unacceptable.

    SIGNED: Ana M. Rojas
    Head of Comptuational Biology and Bioinformatics Group
    Institute of Biomedicine of Seville, Spain.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I strongly support this letter by Rafael Cantera, the important work of Leonid Schneider, fair trials, the right to defend yourself, and freedom of speech.
    Elisabeth Bik, PhD

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The act of the Walles, possibly supported by their university, is to be condemned as not only incompatible with, but as wholly contrary to basic academic principles of minimal decency. It moreover serves neither to clear the Walles of suspicion och research fraud and/or serious research ethical breach, nor to save the reputation of their employer – quite the contrary. had the Walles and the university of Würzburg had any honest intent of clearing up whatever faults may in the past have been committed and to clear themselves of false accusation, they should long ago have invited open critical inquiry. The move to scare, or force by financial pressure, Leonid Schneider to relate already publicly available information about this case is nothing but shameful.

    Christian Munthe
    Professor of practical philosophy, specialising in bioethics and the ethics of science & technology
    University of Gothenburg

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I strongly support the open letter of professor Cantera.
    Klaas van Dijk, Groningen, The Netherlands.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pierre Delaere

    In full support of the letter of Rafael Cantera and the efforts of Leonid Schneider to stop this tracheal regeneration bubble.
    Pierre Delaere
    Professor of ORL Head & Neck Surgery
    UZ Leuven

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Gottfrid Sjödahl

    In support of the content of the above letter,
    Gottfrid Sjödahl, PhD
    Lund University, Sweden

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Morten Oksvold

    I fully support Leonid Schneider in his important investigation of the tracheal regeneration scandal. It is unbelivable that these life threatning experiments have been and still are supported with research funding in Germany, UK and EU in general.
    Morten Oksvold
    Research scientist
    Oslo University Hospital, Norway.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Johan Thyberg

    I fully support the opinion expressed by Rafael Cantera in the above open letter.
    Johan Thyberg
    Pensioned professor of cell and molecular biology
    Karolinska Institutet
    Stockholm, Sweden

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you for writing this letter and i join in to fully support Leonid Schneider and the important work he is doing for all of us.

    Anne Marie Wehenkel, PhD
    Institut Pasteur

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Boris Barbour

    This ridiculous court ruling must be swiftly overturned. Let the truth be free.

    Boris Barbour
    Director of Research
    CNRS, Ecole Normale Supérieure
    Paris, France

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Patricia Murray

    I fully support Professor Cantera’s letter. To understand how these experiments were allowed to be performed on human patients in the absence of any safety and efficacy data from animal studies, it is important to investigate all of the tracheal transplantations involving Macchiarini and his collaborators. Hopefully, by identifying the flaws/loop-holes in our current systems that permitted this to happen, it will be possible to implement measures to prevent similar things from happening again. Thanks to investigative journalists such as Bo Lindquist and Leonid Schneider for bringing these stories to light.

    Patricia Murray
    Professor of Stem Cell Biology
    Departmet of Cellular and Molecular Physiology
    Institute of Translational Medicine
    University of Liverpool, UK

    Liked by 1 person

  20. In support of Leonid Schneider:

    Sebastian Kurscheid, PhD
    Research Fellow
    The John Curtin School of Medical Research
    The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia

    Liked by 1 person

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