Medicine News Research integrity

University of Iceland: no formal legal sanctions against Macchiarini partner Gudbjartsson

The University of Iceland in Reykjavik previously published an external investigation report into the first ever plastic trachea transplant, performed by Paolo Macchiarini at the hospital of Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, Sweden. The patient was Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyene, PhD student at University of Iceland, and the Icelandic surgeon who treated Beyene and then delegated him to Macchiarini for that deadly treatment was Tomas Gudbjartsson, professor of surgery at same university (see my report here). One year after the operation, when Beyene already started to suffer from the plastic trachea which eventually killed him, Gudbjartsson organised a conference on regenerative medicine in Reykjavik, featuring Macchiarini as guest of honour and Beyene as a kind of trophy.

The University now announces to investigate the circumstances of that conference, for which it apologises, and to host on June 1st 2018 a new one, on research ethics. Gudbjartsson will not suffer any disciplinary consequences, because he was said to have expressed sufficient level of protest against the attempts by Macchiarini and his acolyte Philipp Jungebluth to twist the patient abuse into a success story which they published in The LancetJungebluth et al, 2011. A paper which University of Iceland now describes as “objectionable”.

Yet Gudbjartsson was not honest when celebrating the (now officially fraudulent) Lancet paper he co-authored in a radio interview, and even wrote in 2015 a letter to KI defending that transplant he did with Macchiarini, after Beyene and many other plastic trachea patients were already dead. Also, his allegedly laudable request to be removed as co-author from that 2011 Lancet paper came a bit too late: Gudbjartsson contacted the journal only in February 2017, fruitlessly, since he did so long after four other authors already jumped ship (here and here). By then, Macchiarini’s name become so toxic worldwidethat even Jungebluth and his other past German collaborators began to sue me for associating their former superior with them (read here and here).

Gudbjartsson and Beyene. Source: Visir.

Following is the translation of the original press release by University of Iceland, dated April 5th 2018. Update: 2 days after this article appeared on my site, University of Iceland released an English-version, here.

The University of Iceland Dean’s statement on the final conclusion of investigation into the role of a professor in the plastic trachea case

Following a report by an independent investigative committee on the plastic trachea case, the University of Iceland has sought to analyse the accountability of the institution and its employees, examine what went wrong in the case, identify lessons from it, and to determine the appropriate responses.

Once the report was published, it became obvious that the participation of  a University of Iceland professor in research on a particular patient and the publication of these results needed to be further examined. In this regard, the Dean focused on an article published in The Lancet in 2011 and on a symposium held at the University of Iceland in 2012 on the occasion of the one year anniversary of the first artificial trachea transplant. The Dean considered whether there were grounds for formal sanctions against the professor for professional work-related infractions.

The Dean supports the conclusion in the Independent Investigative Committee‘s report that the professor’s part in the publication of the aforementioned [Jungebluth et al Lancet, 2011, -LS] scientific paper was objectionable. In particular, he [Gutbjartsson, -LS] should have declined to participate in further writing of the manuscript and he should have withdrawn his name from the author list as soon as he became aware of the manuscript‘s shortcomings.

On the basis of the report by the Independent Investigative Committee, it is also the Dean´s position that the professor’s part in the preparation of the symposium held at the University of Iceland in 2012 was objectionable. The information about the operation and the condition of the patient, provided to the University of Iceland prior to the symposium, came from the professor.

Countering these issues, the professor has various mitigating factors.  He tried unsuccessfully to improve the scientific article’s  description of the patient’s recovery, he has requested that his name be removed from the list of authors of the aforementioned scientific article, and he had a significant role in explaining the plastic trachea case by providing extensive data and explanations.

Although the Dean concludes that the professor’s conduct, as described above, is considered objectionable, based on the overall assessment of the case, and in light of available information, a case for formal legal sanctions  [against Gudbjartsson, -LS] for work violations based on Act no. 70/1996, on the rights and obligations of state employees, is not considered to be present. In this decision, it is also taken into account  that the comments and critiques on the professor’s work in the aforementioned investigative report have been publicly disclosed.

On behalf of the University of Iceland, an apology is offered for the flaws in the 2012 symposium on the plastic trachea transplantation. These flaws have given reason to revise procedures used in preparation and publicity of  events held in the name of the University of Iceland.

It should also be made official that at the meeting of the University Council on December 14, 2017, under the the heading “The Plastic trachea case. Reaction in response to committee’s report“, a motion was passed to set up a task force on behalf of the Deans office aiming to review the University of Iceland’s involvement, as an institution, in the matter.

Members of the task force are the chairman of the University’s Science Ethics Committee, the head of the division of Education, the head of the division of Science and Innovation, and the Vice-Dean for Science who heads the task force. The task force will review the following items:

  1. How promotional material and press releases are presented, and to establish relevant guidelines about this activity.
  2. The code of ethics and science ethics.
  3. As part of its inquiry, the task force shall  hold a symposium on ethics in research in the spring of 2018.
  4. The task force shall generate recommendations of action, eg. in the form of lectures, promotional materials or courses for employees to ensure that employees know which laws, rules and ethical principles govern employees and activities of the University.

April 5, 2018

Jón Atli Benediktsson, Dean of the University of Iceland

Update 10.04.2018. Jón Atli Benediktsson, Dean of the University of Iceland, told me about the upcoming research integrity conference:

“The symposium will be held on June 1. The program is being worked on and should be definite in a few weeks”.

Update 10.05.2018. Gudbjartsson engaged a Swedish law firm Bratt Feinsilber  & Harling to explain to Karolinska that he is utterly innocent, in this letter. It contains as attachment his email communications with Macchiarini, in English




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3 comments on “University of Iceland: no formal legal sanctions against Macchiarini partner Gudbjartsson

  1. Pingback: Boletim de Notícias: Dedo fóssil sugere êxodo da África antes do que se pensava | Direto da Ciência

  2. Pingback: Swedish Prosecution Authority reopens Macchiarini manslaughter investigation – For Better Science

  3. Pingback: Paolo Macchiarini indicted for aggravated assault in Sweden – For Better Science

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