Swedish Central Ethics Review Board finds Macchiarini guilty of misconduct, requests retraction of 6 papers

Swedish Central Ethics Review Board finds Macchiarini guilty of misconduct, requests retraction of 6 papers

Breaking news, Central Ethics Review Board (CEPN) decided today on the case of trachea transplant surgeon Paolo Macchiarini. The expert review by Martin Björck, professor of surgery at University of Uppsala, and Detlev Ganten, professor emeritus of pharmacology and former CEO of the Charité, on which this decision is based, is available here on my site.

Here the press release I received:

The Expert Group on Scientific Misconduct has on request from the Karolinska Institut (KI) delivered a Statement in a case where Paolo Macchiarini is one of the researchers accused of scientific misconduct.
The case comprises six articles which mainly deals with transplantation of synthetic tracheas. These articles have previously been reviewed by Professor Bengt Gerdin, who found scientific misconduct in all six articles. Despite that, KI choose to clear Paolo Macchiarini and the co-authors. KI have thereafter opened the case again.
The Expert Group have appointed two external experts, Professor Martin Björck, Uppsala and Professor Detlev Ganten, Berlin. They have similarly to Bengt Gerdin, founded that there arescientific misconduct in the articles in question.
The Expert Group state that the transplantations are described successfully in the articles, which is not the fact. The Expert Group also establish that the information in the articles are misleading and beautifying regarding the patients conditions and furthermore that information has been withhold in this purpose and that this constitutes scientific misconduct. In addition,there is false information of ethical approval, which also constitute scientific misconduct.
The Expert Group finds that all co-authors to the six articles are guilty of scientific misconduct. The responsibility is however different amongst the authors. The main responsibility lies on Paolo Macchiarini as the main author and research-leader and others who have had a more prominent role in the research and the authorship. The more detailed responsibility and the future consequences for the respective authors is up to their employers to decide.
The Expert Group request the different publications to withdraw all six articles.

Continue reading “Swedish Central Ethics Review Board finds Macchiarini guilty of misconduct, requests retraction of 6 papers”

Swedish police investigation acquitted Macchiarini on advice of misconduct-tainted trachea transplanters

Swedish police investigation acquitted Macchiarini on advice of misconduct-tainted trachea transplanters

On October 12th 2017, the Swedish prosecutor Jennie Nordin  gave a long-awaited press conference about the case of the scandal surgeon Paolo Macchiarini. The surprise hardly anyone expected was: all manslaughter charges were dropped, the case closed. The operations on three patients, whom Macchiarini gave a plastic trachea at the hospital of the Karolinska Institutet (KI), and who died as the result, were declared  mere negligence. Andemariam Beyene, Chris Lyles and Yesim Cetir (details of their cases here) were considered as dying anyway and without any other possibility to help, in fact the prosecution decreed that there was no way to prove if they would have lived longer had Macchiarini not experimented on them without ethics permits or any previous animal testing.

While Sweden and the world listened in disbelief at the words of Nordin, everyone wondered how could the police investigators come to such radically different conclusion about the medical aspects of these trachea transplant operations than the experts in Sweden and worldwide, who clearly see Macchiarini’s trachea transplants as unethical human experimenting and misconduct (see here). The prosecution refused to divulge which experts advised them though, also their assessments remain confidential. Now, thanks to KI’s emeritus professor and whistleblower Johan Thyberg, I found out what the Chairman of the Judicial Council Camilla Olsson, and her rapporteur Robert Grundin wrote to the prosecution:

“The Board has obtained the opinion of Professor Hasse Ejnell and Professor Michael Olausson”

Update 27.10.2017: Prosecutor Nordin confirmed to Thyberg by email that the experts appointed by the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) were indeed Hasse Ejnell and Michael Olausson.

These are the two clinical professors from the University of Gothenburg who themselves transplanted a cadaveric trachea, without obtaining a proper ethics vote or an approval of authorities on the treatment and its medication. The patient died soon afterwards and the publication describing that operation  (Berg et al, Tissue Eng Part A. 2014) was retracted for data manipulations. The scientist behind this was the notorious Gothenburg regenerative medicine researcher Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson. She and Olausson were both found guilty of misconduct and ethics breach by the University of Gothenburg, regarding that trachea transplantation as well as transplants of “regenerated” veins into three child patients.

On top of this, Olausson was involved into the case of Yesim Cetir, Macchiarini’s third patient. Unlike previous two patients Yesim had no slow-growing or any kind of cancer, all she had was a tracheostomy due to damaged trachea after a botched operation in her home country Turkey. With such a defect alone, she was in no life danger at all, as long as she did not try to swim. It was Macchiarini who declared her in his recent television interview as “bleeding a glass of blood” daily, or the Swedish prosecution claiming she was suffering of “life-threatening” chest infection, without explaining how this can be cured with a plastic trachea transplant. Olausson, who helped the prosecution form this diagnosis, has made together with Sumitran-Holgersson a cadaveric trachea which was supposed to save Yesim’s life after her first plastic trachea transplant failed. Macchiarini’s acolyte Philipp Jungebluth (the one who keeps suing me in court in Germany) travelled to Gothenburg to pick up that trachea in 2013.  Macchiarini then changed his mind, sent Olausson his necro-trachea back and implanted another plastic graft into Yesim. Which wade matters even worse, Yesim died in March of this year in the hospital of the Temple University, USA. Her father Hayrullah, who dedicated all his time and attention to trying to save her, died soon after Yesim, on untreated cancer.

Continue reading “Swedish police investigation acquitted Macchiarini on advice of misconduct-tainted trachea transplanters”

DFG Senator Roland Lill explains how to do science properly

DFG Senator Roland Lill explains how to do science properly

My earlier article about strange image irregularities in the publications of the German mitochondria researcher Roland Lill seem to have motivated this pre-emeritus biochemistry professor of the University of Marburg to come to PubPeer and address the issues. While in his earlier statements he simply waved off all concerns of western blot band duplications, this time and with other papers he admitted those, while presenting the original Western Blot scans. Together with the first author on two such papers, Janneke Balk, Lill explained why copy-pasting western blot bands, sometimes on top of other gel images, had nothing at all sinister in it, but used to be somewhat of a normal research practice 10-15 years ago. And in some cases, gel bands can naturally duplicate themselves.

Any advice on research integrity from the side of a Senator of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina is certainly most valuable, this is why I will present here his explanations, so the younger generation of scientists can learn about correct figure preparation, including the proper use of gel band copy-paste function. The past evidence was forwarded to me by a reader of my site.  I will also offer Professor Lill and you for debate another example from his past publication, where a western blot was duplicated in different context. This was forwarded me from yet another reader of my site.  Continue reading “DFG Senator Roland Lill explains how to do science properly”

CNRS hits back at the stream of misconduct evidence

CNRS hits back at the stream of misconduct evidence

The French scientific society CNRS, a huge country-wide network of research institutes and one of the most influential science institutions in Europe, had enough of me and my reporting. They now blocked me on Twitter, so I don’t spoil their celebration of a book by their senior director and chief of research integrity, Catherine Jessus. The book is titled “Étonnant vivant”, which translated roughly means “Amazing ways to improve your Life science publications with just a little bit of photoshop”. I previously reported about some examples of this art in Jessus publications, which CNRS did not really appreciate.

And of course CNRS did not take it lightly when my past reporting forced them to deal with the Olivier Voinnet affair, whose investigator was Jessus. Neither did they like my writings about another misconduct scandal she had very successfully kept under wraps, that around the former Voinnet postdoc Charles-Henri Lecellier, now CNRS group leader in Montpellier. What finally took the biscuit was my constant leaking of misconduct evidence and of internal information from the former Voinnet institute in Strasbourg,  Institut de Biologie Moléculaire des Plantes (IBMP), or as I keep proposing to rebrand it, The Olivier Voinnet Institute for Research Integrity in Plant Sciences. CNRS initially tried it nicely, by sending the IBMP deputy director Jean-Luc Evrard to call me “baby”, then “idiot”, while instructing all other institute employees never to communicate with me, and eventually CNRS simply blocked me on Twitter.

Capture+_2017-10-17-15-31-03

On this occasion, I will now bring more evidence on data rigging inside IBMP. Before dumping new evidence about the IBMP director Laurence Maréchal-Drouard, let us start with something traditional and well known, namely Voinnet and his sidekick Patrice Dunoyer, whose IBMP lab was supposed to be dissolved, but maybe he managed to save himself with a recent publication in Nature Plants.

Continue reading “CNRS hits back at the stream of misconduct evidence”

On Western blot loading controls: lessons from Richard Moriggl lab

On Western blot loading controls: lessons from Richard Moriggl lab

Western blot, a method to separate proteins by size and analyse their relative expression levels, is a much maligned technique of molecular cell biology. The website PubPeer is flooded with evidence of manipulated Western blots, where gel lanes were inappropriately spliced, or where bands digitally duplicated or erased. Some even question the technology as such, since it is indeed mostly Western Blots (and other gels, like Northern Blots for RNA or Southern Blots for DNA or RNA PCR-amplification gels) which are flagged for image manipulation.

It is however not the technology to blame for all the rigging done with it, but the simple fact that it is image based. Anyone with a minimum of image analysis skills or a good eye for duplications can spot Western Blot manipulations. You do not need to be an expert in the technology or even a biologist, to find data rigging. This is exactly why a certain aberration in Western Blot integrity is often either overlooked or dismissed as incompetent nitpicking: the absence of proper loading controls. Just like it seems to be occasionally the case in the publications from the lab of Richard Moriggl, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Cancer Research and professor at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria. The Moriggl lab studies molecular signalling in cancer cells and tissues, hence its focus on the analysis of regulatory protein phosphorylation and how it changes under various conditions. Such analysis must be always supported by proper gel loading controls, which seems not always be the case here. A reader of my site contacted me with some examples of such inappropriate gel presentation in Moriggl papers, some of which he already posted on PubPeer.

Continue reading “On Western blot loading controls: lessons from Richard Moriggl lab”

After misconduct investigation, Irina Stancheva left Edinburgh, in secret

After misconduct investigation, Irina Stancheva left Edinburgh, in secret

A scientist was “dismissed” by the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, UK. All evidence points towards that it was the cell biologist Irina Stancheva who specialises on the epigenetics and regulatory methylation of DNA, and who departed from the university recently, after a forced leave. She also has an impressive record on PubPeer, where her publications were flagged for suspected data manipulations around 2 years ago. The suspicions were mostly of western blot band re-use and duplication. Around same time, an investigation started about these PubPeer issues, and by now Stancheva’s name does not feature of the Department’s list of academic staff. A archived version from December 2016 does feature Stancheva, but not that of August 2017. Her institutional website was deleted just hours after I sent my email inquiries to her former faculty colleagues. Continue reading “After misconduct investigation, Irina Stancheva left Edinburgh, in secret”

Alexander Seifalian, UCL’s Persian Scapegoat

Alexander Seifalian, UCL’s Persian Scapegoat

The London university UCL has now completed the investigation into the affair around their past honorary professor and now disgraced thoracic surgeon Paolo Macchiarini and the trachea transplants. Subject of the investigation were: the two plastic tracheas UCL produced (one sent to Karolinska Institutet and implanted in patient Andemariam Beyene in Stockholm, another used by UCL laryngologist Martin Birchall to treat Keziah Shorten, who previously received a cadaveric trachea from Macchiarini as requested by UCL) as well as four more cadaveric trachea transplants, namely the very first such intervention organised by Macchiarini and Birchall in Barcelona in 2008, on patient Claudia Castillo, as well as the three trachea transplants which took place under UCL oversight in London, on paediatric patients Ciaran Lynch, Shauna Davison and a 3-year old child who was transplanted just in May 2017 at the same Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). The offhand revelations about the last transplant in this UCL report came as surprise, since it was otherwise kept secret.

No information is provided by the investigative report on how that child is doing now, in fact it seems no evidence like laboratory books, research data or patients’ medical files was ever requested and the committee relied solely on the opinions provided by the very people they were supposed to investigate: Paolo Macchiarini, Martin Birchall and GOSH paediatric surgeon and past director Martin Elliott. In fact, the report seems to become very nebulous or even creative with its use of alternative facts to avoid implicating Birchall in anything unethical at all. The only guilty party in this medical scandal is incidentally also the only non-clinician and the only non-white character in the entire Macchiarini affair: the nuclear physicist Alexander Seifalian, a Persian-Armenian and dual citizen of Iran and UK, whose lab manufactured two plastic tracheas. He was already sacked by UCL in July 2016, accused of bribery. Seifalian is also bowel cancer survivor, which did not prevent UCL of accusing him of failing to oversee the abroad clinical application of his produce just when he was receiving chemotherapy.

These are the results of UCL investigation in the nutshell:

  • All UCL-employed clinicians involved in trachea transplants, in particular UCL’s chief trachea transplanter Martin Birchall, are fully acquitted from any suspicion of misconduct or clinical wrongdoing. Even Macchiarini seems partially exonerated from the gist of the UCL report, because:
  • The maker of the two plastic tracheas, Alexander Seifalian, is to take all the UCL-related blame for the failed  transplants (as well as other plastics implants in India, Iran and Switzerland). His fault is to have manufactured these products though his UCL lab lacked GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certificate. Only this lack of GMP-quality seal was what apparently made plastic tracheas too dangerous to implant in humans.
  • All five cadaveric trachea transplants under the scope of investigation were considered ethically, medically and scientifically justified. Deaths of the patients were explained with new discoveries of recurrent cancer, or demands of other patients for the same hospital bed.
  • Birchall’s clinical trials with cadaveric tracheas (phase 1/2a INSPIRE, and by extension, also EU-wide phase 2 TETRA) are to go ahead as planned and to recruit patients. Same positive recommendation for Birchall’s related trial RegenVox on cadaveric larynx, decellurised and “regenerated” with same technology as tracheas.

Continue reading “Alexander Seifalian, UCL’s Persian Scapegoat”