Birchall’s two dead pigs to prove trachea transplants are safe

Birchall’s two dead pigs to prove trachea transplants are safe

Imagine you are Martin Birchall, laryngologist and ENT surgeon, star of regenerative medicine at UCL and trachea transplant enthusiast. You and your business partner Videregen need to explain to EU bureaucrats why your technology of decellurised cadaveric trachea is perfectly safe, what with all the dead patients of yours and your former best friend Paolo Macchiarini. Preclinical animal tests? Good idea indeed, though you have already published some very shady pig studies with Macchiarini in 2010, after you operated your first human patient in 2008 (whom you keep parading as success story of your stem cell magic superpowers, despite heavy complications which almost killed your research subject).

To distance yourself from that horrid Macchiarini, you do new preclinical tests. Enter three more pigs, which you decide transplant with a cadaveric decellurised human trachea. One trachea turns out to have been dirty not just with human “stem” cells, but also with pathogenic bacteria. So that one piggy got lucky and was set free. The unlucky other two: dead “of respiratory compromise”, one already after 12 days, the other suffered for a whole month after trachea transplant. You now have 100% preclinical mortality rate, and you still manage to convince the bureaucrats that the method works and 48 human patients must experience same, in the EU-funded phase 2 clinical trial TETRA. Thing is, that trachea transplant trial was supposed to help tracheal stenosis patients, by ridding them of burdensome stents and bronchoscopies, and not to euthanise them. Continue reading “Birchall’s two dead pigs to prove trachea transplants are safe”

EU trachea transplant clinical trial TETRA “uncertain to take place”

EU trachea transplant clinical trial TETRA “uncertain to take place”

The European Commission now admits to me, through European Ombudsman, that their €6.8 mn phase 2 clinical trial TETRA with cadaveric tracheas, led by the UCL laryngologist Martin Birchall is unlikely to ever recruit any patients, because “the current delay to the INSPIRE project therefore makes the prospects for the commencement and completion of the TETRA project uncertain“.

INSPIRE is a phase 1 clinical trial in UK, suspended since December 2016, which was about to recruit 4 patients for trachea transplants using the technology of cadaveric tracheas Birchall developed together with his former partner, the scandal surgeon Paolo Macchiarini. The UK trial was suspended by UK authorities because of my reporting, its funding ran out and it is unlikely to be ever resumed. Even the official sponsor of both INSPIRE and TETRA, Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult, sulkily announced to change the status of the former trial from “active, not recruiting” to “suspended” at the Clinicaltrials.gov website. And without INSPIRE (which EU Commission prefers to see as “delayed“, not as suspended) the phase 2 clinical trial TETRA becomes just a grave for tax money, but luckily not for patients. This is something however EU Commission sees no problem with, and these are their views declared to me in the nutshell, via a letter from European Ombudsman to whom I complained after my Freedom of Information request was rejected by EU Commission twice (here and here):

  • EU Commission refuses access to TETRA documentation because this could be “potentially causing reputational damage to the consortium and individuals linked to it“.
  • EU Commission sees no imminent “public health concerns or public benefits” because “the TETRA clinical trial is dependent on the successful completion of the INSPIRE project
  • The trial will not be terminated, and will simply trudge on until the end of its funding period on 31 December 2019.
  • EU Commission maintains that Macchiarini only transplanted plastic tracheas and had no contribution to the cadaveric trachea technology of INSPIRE and TETRA: “the scientific research involved in TETRA is pursuing a different method than the one developed by the doctor who has been subject to misconduct investigations
  • EU commission maintains that cadaveric trachea transplants, including those principal investigator Birchall was involved in, were either full successes (where patients survived) or they never happened (where patients died). The list of dead and mutilated patients who received cadaveric tracheas, which I specifically sent to EU Commission, was dismissed as not relevant for the current clinical trial

Continue reading “EU trachea transplant clinical trial TETRA “uncertain to take place””

UCL’s decellurised tracheas: strong and stable?

UCL’s decellurised tracheas: strong and stable?

The European Union Commission staunchly refuses to tell me what exactly their funded scientists intend to do to the scheduled 48 trachea transplant patients under the Horizon 2020-financed phase 2 clinical trial TETRA. By now the highest authority, the European Ombudsman, is engaged, and still EU Commission does not bulge. The general technology of TETRA and its indefinitely suspended phase 1 UK predecessor Inspire is however known: cadaveric tracheas from dead donors will be collected, decellurised to remove all the host cellular tissue, and then subjected to the magic of recellurisation in bioreactors, where bone marrow and epithelial cells will turn a dead carcass into a living organ, ready for transplant.

The cadaveric grafts must either to be obtained very fresh (a nightmare of impracticability), or kept frozen before they are needed, otherwise they will rot. Leanne Partington, a PhD student of the UCL trachea makers Mark Lowdell and Martin Birchall, investigated in her 2014 PhD thesis the effect of this freeze-thaw step on the decellurisation process (it proved to increase efficiency) but also on the graft stability, as measured by compression tests. This is where it turned out that the defrosted grafts lost roughly half of their mechanical stability. Which means they would collapse immediately when implanted into patient, which was indeed exactly what happened. Yet UCL and EU Commission want to keep trying, and according to the patented technology by the trial sponsor Videregen, defrosted tracheas are to be used. Which by EU business-oriented logic suggests, the patented technology from the freezer is to be used in TETRA.

The two experiments UCL performed on the patients Ciaran Lynch and Shauna Davison in 2010 and 2012, respectively (read here), used defrosted tracheas. Both trachea grafts collapsed right away, only that Birchall and his partners decided to omit this critical information about Ciaran’s trachea in their Elliott et al Lancet 2012 paper, while telling untruths about Shauna’s fate. The UCL trachea transplanters until very recently either forgot about Shauna’s existence, or pretended her new trachea functioned great up to her allegedly unrelated death just two weeks after the transplant.  Continue reading “UCL’s decellurised tracheas: strong and stable?”

Indestructible Sumitran-Holgersson: Commit misconduct on patients, get EU funding to continue

Indestructible Sumitran-Holgersson: Commit misconduct on patients, get EU funding to continue

This is a story uncovered and researched with the tremendous help of Swedish investigative journalist, Sophia Tibblin. A Swedish start-up company, fed with generous funding from Swedish state, now received €2.2 Million from the European Union, to further develop the same regenerative medicine technology which was determined in two investigations to be tainted by research misconduct and patient abuse by the founder of this very company: Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson. A clinical trial is scheduled based on debunked science of recellurising dead blood vessel grafts, to continue where 3 previous child patients were used as human Guinea pigs .

This might remind you of another ongoing Horizon 2020 clinical trial, where a similar decell-recell technology of the trachea transplanter Paolo Macchiarini is being prepared for mass-use in patients. There, EU refused to share any information. Also in the case of Sumitran-Holgersson and her company, all EU commission members and even press speakers I approached refused any communication.

Much credit for research behind this post goes to Sophia Tibblin.

Continue reading “Indestructible Sumitran-Holgersson: Commit misconduct on patients, get EU funding to continue”

Martin Birchall’s shaky road to mass trachea transplanting

Martin Birchall’s shaky road to mass trachea transplanting

The British laryngologist and UCL professor Martin Birchall is one of the two founding fathers of “bioengineered” trachea, the other one being his former partner, the scandal surgeon Paolo Macchiarini. Birchall presently runs three trachea transplant trials clinical trials, two in the UK and one EU-wide. His patients must however wait to be cured, because the two UK trials, Inspire and RegenVox (with the latter primarily about larynx and upper trachea transplant) were both placed on hold, and the EU funded phase 2 trial TETRA is still far from getting an ethics approval and just now lost one potential trial site after the Medical University Vienna jumped ship. The EU Commission refuses to tell me anything about TETRA, except that it has not applied for ethics approval yet. EU’s Transparence department still evade commenting on how to put this scheduled 48 patient clinical trial in context of the 11 cadaveric trachea transplants by Macchiarini and Birchall, most or maybe even all of which left the patients either dead or mutilated.

In this article, I publish the most recent patient information sheets for the two suspended Inspire and RegenVox trachea transplant clinical trials, which I obtained under Freedom of Information request from the UK Health Research Authority (HRA).  Continue reading “Martin Birchall’s shaky road to mass trachea transplanting”

Human Brain Project interview with Thomas Lippert: Simulating brain in computer is like simulating weather

Human Brain Project interview with Thomas Lippert: Simulating brain in computer is like simulating weather

Following is my email interview with Thomas Lippert, professor and director of the Institute for Advanced Simulation and the Jülich Supercomputing Centre at the Forschungszentrum Jülich in the west of Germany, located somewhere between the cities of Cologne and Aachen. Lippert’s FZ Jülich is a central partner at the Human Brain Project (HBP), the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagship mega-consortium which is funded with €1 Billion, half of which coming from the European Union.  Lippert heads the Subproject (SP) 7 at the HBP, named High-Performance Analytics and Computing Platform, tasked with providing the high-performance computational power in order to help the HBP megaproject simulate the human brain and its diseases.

I previously wrote some critical articles about HBP, about the hubris of its founding father Henry Markram, the bizarre way EU positively evaluated the performance of HBP without actually evaluating it, and also about the purpose of HBP and Flagship projects in general. Incidentally, the last article’s cover photo showed Lippert at a HBP conference. We got into a discussion over Twitter during HBP’s recent Open Day show in Glasgow, where Lippert kindly agreed to answer my questions about the purpose and orientation of HBP.

Continue reading “Human Brain Project interview with Thomas Lippert: Simulating brain in computer is like simulating weather”

EU commemorates dead patients of Macchiarini & Birchall with a phase 2 trachea transplant trial TETRA

EU commemorates dead patients of Macchiarini & Birchall with a phase 2 trachea transplant trial TETRA

The European Commission now took 40 days to deny my second Freedom of Information (FOI) Inquiry about the TETRA phase 2 clinical trial with cadaveric trachea transplant they are currently financing with €7 Million. This is EU’s second attempt to become world-leading manufacturer of industrial trachea transplants, after the €5mn Biotrachea led by the scandal surgeon Paolo Macchiarini was terminated mid-term. No, not because EU had any concerns for the patients, quite the opposite: he was given a clean ethics vote to go ahead. Biotrachea was terminated by the EU because the plastic tracheas Macchiarini wanted to use lacked novelty, as the documents I obtained revealed.

The TETRA trial, led by Macchiarini’s past collaborator, the UCL laryngologist Martin Birchall, was already on the brink of being terminated in the wake of the Macchiarini scandal, as EU previously indicated to me. Now, exactly the opposite happens. The trial is being prepared at full speed despite the fact that its predecessor phase 1 trial INSPIRE was suspended (because of my reporting), never recruited any of its four patients and it most likely never will. That trial is also led by Birchall (details here), it is likely that its Innovate UK funding has ran out meanwhile. EU however seems to signal that they will go ahead with phase 2 trial even if phase 1 never happens. After all, there are those 10 patients who received a cadaveric trachea transplant  (here and below) and were operated under hospital exemptions between 2008 and 2012 by Macchiarini and Birchall. At least half of these 10 are dead, the lucky survivors either had their graft removed or live with permanently installed stents to prevent their rotting airways from collapsing (INSPIRE’s and TETRA’s clinical promise is actually that the patients will never need a stent). But this disaster seems exactly the reason for EU to try it again, and on a much, much bigger scale: 48 patients are scheduled to receive cadaveric tracheas. Probably because it will create employment.

The EU spokesperson ceased long ago answering my emails, after I declined to be instructed over the phone (strictly off-the-record) why EU’s approach to trachea transplanting is right; this is why I had to resort to FOI. The official time limit to answer my FOI inquiry from July 1st 2017 was 15 days, but the EU first pretended not to have received my postal address, then said they need more time, then said they need extra time to assemble the documents for me, and finally, the Director-General of the European Commission, Robert-Jan Smits, wrote to me on September 11th. He basically told me again to get lost and that he will never release any information (read here his past rejection of my FOI inquiry). His reasons, as before: the trachea transplant trial is a business enterprise and revealing any of its progress might endanger the financial interests of its stakeholders, and then there are privacy concerns. Exactly, Smits decided that the public must under no circumstances find out whom exactly the EU is giving this public’s money for research on humans. I am not making it up, read Smits’ letter yourself hereContinue reading “EU commemorates dead patients of Macchiarini & Birchall with a phase 2 trachea transplant trial TETRA”