Yoshinori Watanabe data manipulations: much worse than officially presented

Yoshinori Watanabe data manipulations: much worse than officially presented

Earlier this months, a research misconduct scandal in molecular cell biology broke out in the big news. Yoshinori Watanabe, Japanese researcher of cell division and how cells separate their replicated DNA during mitosis and meiosis, was found guilty of scientific misconduct by his University of Tokyo (read the news here and here). This followed an investigation initiated in the fall of 2016, after anonymous whistleblowers submitted to the university a report accusing 6 Tokyo research groups of data manipulation, first and foremost, Watanabe (I managed to obtain this dossier, and publish it below).

As the outcome of the University of Tokyo investigations, which concluded on May 31st 2017, misconduct was determined in 5 publications from Watanabe’s lab, which appeared between 2008 and 2015 in the elite journals like Science, Nature and Nature Cell Biology. However, the whistleblower dossier lists 7 papers, one of them a paper in Cell from 2015 with duplicated gel images, and a 2011 EMBO Reports paper which contains a western blot which was obviously digitally retouched to remove unwanted bands. Watanabe’s assistant professor Yuji Tanno was also found guilty of misconduct, and indeed his 2015 Science paper with Watanabe looks like a total train wreck of data manipulations.  Yet it seems there is a tendency to present Watanabe’s deeds as mere mistakes (though grossly inappropriate ones) by a great genius scientist, who was confused by the complexity of rules on data acquisition and incidentally broke some while producing outstanding and absolutely reliable top-level research. Some of his peers seem to be calling for leniency or at least some understanding for Watanabe. The selected evidence from the whistleblower dossier which I post below suggests that Watanabe knew perfectly well what he was doing, and he did so in order to produce desirable results which his lab experiments failed to deliver, and which he needed in order to impress the choosy elite journals.

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The one who asked questions: interview with Johannes Wahlström, by Alla Astakhova

The one who asked questions: interview with Johannes Wahlström, by Alla Astakhova

Below I am re-publishing an interview which the Russian health journalist Alla Astakhova conducted with the Swedish journalist Johannes Wahlström. Wahlström’s work for the Swedish television SVT, together with Bosse Lindquist, was decisive in uncovering the patient abuse by the fallen star surgeon Paolo Macchiarini (see here the full list of trachea transplant patients). Without the dedicated work of the Swedish journalists, Macchiarini would probably still be experimenting on humans with his cadaveric and plastic tracheas, generating even more death and suffering in the process. In the interview with Astakhova, Wahlström tells about his research for the famous SVT film Experimenten, and how the SVT team found out about the four Karolinska Institutet whistleblowers Oscar SimonsonKarl-Henrik Grinnemo, Matthias Corbascio and Thomas Fux (see my reports about them here, here and here).

For Wahlström, the scandal is not just about Macchiarini. The central figures here are the abused patients, most, if not almost all of them no longer alive. And Macchiarini is not the only one guilty. Wahlström explains how everyone else orbiting that grandiose thorax surgeon was co-responsible, by looking away, covering things up or contributing their small share to the grand horror. The multilingual Swedish journalist specifically criticises the irresponsible dishonesty of Macchiarini’s Russian surgeon partners Vladimir Parshin and Igor Polyakov in the face of the catastrophe they participated in, or the bizarre attitude of Macchiarini’s biographer and Megagrant-manager Elena Kokurina, who seems to have been deliberately avoiding learning the real fate of his patients. Wahlström also questions the ethics of German TV producers who decided to air their Macchiarini-extolling documentary Supercells! in Germany and France despite knowing that its protagonist, Yulia Tuulik, was not cured at all. She was miserably dying. Continue reading “The one who asked questions: interview with Johannes Wahlström, by Alla Astakhova”

Unpublished Macchiarini manuscript confirms 5 forgotten trachea transplant patients, Jungebluth’s surgery practice in Italy

Unpublished Macchiarini manuscript confirms 5 forgotten trachea transplant patients, Jungebluth’s surgery practice in Italy

I have been forwarded a manuscript by the scandal surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, which was originally intended to present in detail all of his known 9 cadaveric trachea recipients (only 4 are recorded officially). The compilation follows exactly all the patients who are already listed on my site, with the small difference that the paper (allegedly rejected at Nature Communications) presents their clinical evolutions quite differently from reality. One of these now fully confirmed victims of Macchiarini’s research was his second patient from Barcelona, whom Macchiarini transplanted in secret; five were operated in Italy (including Keziah Shorten and the Czech patient MK). The manuscript also confirms that Macchiarini’s acolyte Philipp Jungebluth was directly involved in the transplant surgeries of these patients, despite his most probably not having a permit to practice medicine in Italy.  This makes Jungebluth co-responsible for up to 13 trachea transplants, 10 of them lethal. The German doctor is currently suing me in court for alleged libel, insisting that all these patient deaths and his proven research misconduct in Sweden would never ever disqualify him from developing trachea transplants and training as thorax surgeon at the University Clinic Heidelberg, where he however doesn’t work anymore.

The first author of this lost and now found unpublished paper is Johannes Haag, Macchiarini’s other acolyte and former MD student from Hannover Medical School (MHH) in Germany. Haag is apparently still employed at the Thoraxklinik at the University of Heidelberg, where Jungebluth used to be. The manuscript, which was supposed to be Haag’s big paper, was written to deal with the fact that too many of Macchiarini’s cadaveric trachea recipients died or developed very severe complications. To this end, the team hatched an idea to do “reverse translational experiments“, where rat experiments would follow those on 9 humans, prove that the cadaveric trachea technology works in principle and it was the human patients who were making problems. This notion was to be supported also by their earlier pig study Go et al, Biomaterials 2010, where Macchiarini and Jungebluth claim, without a shred of evidence, that the large animal testing was performed before the first patient, Claudia Castillo, received a cadaveric trachea in 2008 (details here, here and here).

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