No animal testing before Walles tracheal transplants, admits Fraunhofer Society

No animal testing before Walles tracheal transplants, admits Fraunhofer Society

The tracheal transplant experiments on three human patients were performed by the German scientists Heike and Throsten Walles without any previous animal testing, as now admitted to me by the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (Fraunhofer IGB) in Stuttgart.  It also came to light that the pig intestine-based tracheal transplant was eventually deemed as too toxic, and a follow-up animal testing was apparently cancelled. Heike Walles is still associated with Fraunhofer IGB while being together with her husband employed as professors at the University Clinic of Würzburg. A patient of theirs received in 2007 a tracheal transplant of unknown size and shape, prepared from decellurised and in vitro re-populated pig intestine; this unnamed person died only some weeks after, of causes unknown to us. We know however, that two weeks before that operation, a tubular tracheal graft made from pig intestine was test-implanted into the patient’s arm for a week. After a quick analysis, a second in parallel prepared graft was implanted into the patient’s airways. Remarkably, only preliminary first in-arm test, but not the main operation, was ever published (Mertsching et al 2009), around two years after the patient’s death. The next patient, an Indian immigrant Pavninder Singh, received a large tracheal patch, which apparently did not perform as expected: the patient’s tracheostomy had to be re-opened, there was also apparently heavy inflammation. That patient committed suicide 2.5 years after the operation, and became in 2013 a central character of a book chapter which described his and the scientists Walles’ story (Bernhard Albrecht, “Patient of My Life”). Only in 2015 was the case of that patient published as a research paper (Steinke et al, 2015), his tracheostomy went for some reason unmentioned, just like the fact that Singh was no longer alive since 2011. All these tracheal transplants were prepared in the lab of Heike Walles (back then under her former husband’s name Mertsching) at Fraunhofer IGB, the transplantations took place at the neighbouring  Robert Bosch Hospital, Clinic Schillerhöhe,  where Thorsten Walles used to work as surgeon, before becoming professor in Würzburg. The details can be read in this article. Continue reading “No animal testing before Walles tracheal transplants, admits Fraunhofer Society”

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.  Continue reading “Open Letter in support of my investigation of trachea transplants in Germany, by Rafael Cantera”

Bavarian court sentences me to prison if I dare repeat unwelcome facts of Walles’ trachea transplants

Just before the end of the year 2016, I received per mail an official letter from the Bavarian Regional Court in Würzburg, where I was found guilty of lies and libel in a trial I was not invited to. Under the threat of a prison sentence of 6 months (since I could never pay even a fraction of the fine of €250,000) I was ordered by the judge to remove a short paragraph from this article which described the same tracheal transplants which the Würzburg University professors Heike and Thorsten Walles were proudly promoting through all available media only a couple of years ago. Now, when the trachea transplant scandal around their former collaborator Paolo Macchiarini exploded, the mere reference to their earlier common publications amounts to a crime of libel in the German state of Bavaria. I was also sentenced to pay the court costs, though I only learned about this Kafkaesque “Prozeß” once a final decision against me was delivered by mail. Luckily, I still have the right to appeal, which I will do once I recruit a suitable legal counsel. If you wish to help in any way, please get in touch. Continue reading “Bavarian court sentences me to prison if I dare repeat unwelcome facts of Walles’ trachea transplants”

Yuletide greetings from Jungebluth’s lawyer

Yuletide greetings from Jungebluth’s lawyer

On December 22nd, I received some Christmas mail. It was a letter from a famous media lawyer, Prof. Dr. Jan Hegemann, recruited by Philipp Jungebluth to deal with my unwelcome reporting. This is the third time a German clinician set lawyers upon me (here and here are the previous two), and the second time it is about  trachea transplants. This lawyer, whose offices are at Potsdamer Platz at the business heart of Berlin and who represented the biggest stars of German media landscape, is certainly not cheap.

Jungebluth was the closest assistant of the scandal surgeon of Paolo Macchiarini, many of their trachea transplant patients have died. Through his lawyer, Jungebluth (who is an unfinished surgeon) denied any responsibility for any of these operations, insisting against a huge mountain of evidence that he was solely contributing academically, as a scientist. The lawyer also insists that Jungebluth’s medical dissertation, completed under Macchiarini’s supervision at the Medical University Hannover (MHH) in Germany, was equivalent to a PhD degree and that his employer Karolinska Institutet (KI) officially recognized this (for some reason, same lawyer apparently deems my own PhD degree as null and void). Interestingly, the lawyer did not deny my earlier report that his client’s dissertation is being investigated by the MHH right now, which may result in the revocation of Jungebluth’s medical doctorate and of all its alleged equivalences.

The lawyer’s main assertion is that his client quit his job at the University Clinic Heidelberg utterly voluntarily, thus abandoning all his research and training as thorax surgeon, to become a junior doctor at some provincial communal hospital near Hannover. Yet the loss of his job in research was what Jungebluth actually profusely lamented just now in an interview with Swedish newspaper.

Continue reading “Yuletide greetings from Jungebluth’s lawyer”

Untangling forgotten tracheal transplants of Heike and Thorsten Walles, who set a lawyer upon me

Untangling forgotten tracheal transplants of Heike and Thorsten Walles, who set a lawyer upon me

This is the story of three tracheal transplants, performed by the husband and wife team Thorsten Walles and Heike Mertsching (now Walles), former collaborators of Paolo Macchiarini. My investigation quickly led to the Walles couple setting their lawyer on me, demanding almost €3000 immediately and up to €100,000 later. Update: 2 weeks later, they had a Bavarian court sentence me behind my back to a €250,000 fine or 6 months prison term, read here. All because of a single short paragraph from this Macchiarini story, which mentioned their earlier activities. None of their current or former employers nor their lawyer chose to share any specific information about the 3 tracheal transplants, and the fate of these 3 patients.

Macchiarini and the Walleses started their tracheal transplant activities at the Hannover Medical School (MHH), under the regenerative medicine enthusiast Axel Haverich. Together, the team implanted in 2003 a tracheal patch into a cancer patient using a piece of pig intestine, and moved their separate ways soon afterwards.  Macchiarini went in 2004 to Barcelona, where he had his famous trachea transplant breakthrough in 2008 (see my report here). The Walles couple went in the same year to Stuttgart in southern Germany. The thorax surgeon Thorsten to the Robert Bosch Hospital, Clinic Schillerhöhe, the regenerative medicine-specialising biologist Heike (back then carrying the name of her previous husband, Mertsching) became professor at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (Fraunhofer IGB). There, the husband and wife team transplanted between 2007 and 2009 two more patients with tracheal replacements made from pig intestine. The clinical success and the actual performance of these transplants is unclear, it is also not helpful that authors chose to omit certain key aspects when the two cases were eventually published. Continue reading “Untangling forgotten tracheal transplants of Heike and Thorsten Walles, who set a lawyer upon me”

Kathrin Maedler loses Heisenberg Professorship, found guilty of misconduct by DFG

The German central research funding society DFG has issued a press release about two decisions on research misconduct. The main point concerns the Bremen University diabetes researcher Kathrin Maedler (see my story here) and strips her of the prestigious Heisenberg professorship awarded to her by DFG in 2014, after having found her guilty of misconduct and co-responsible for misrepresentation of research data in 6 publications. Today’s DFG decision stands in contrast to two previous investigations by the Universities of Bremen and Zürich, which acquitted Maedler of all suspicions of misconduct and upheld the validity of all her published research results. This is my Google-translate assisted English translation of the Mädler section of DFG press release.


Scientific misconduct: Decision in two DFG procedures

The General Committee decides to withdraw Heisenberg’s professorship […]

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is once again drawing conclusions from the scientific misconduct by the scientists it funded. In its meeting on 8 December 2016 in Bonn, the main committee of the largest research funding organization and central self-administration organization for science in Germany decided in two cases to implement measures in accordance with the DFG procedural rules for dealing with scientific misconduct. In doing so, it followed the recommendation of the DFG committee to investigate allegations of scientific misconduct. Continue reading “Kathrin Maedler loses Heisenberg Professorship, found guilty of misconduct by DFG”

Kathrin Maedler: persecuted genius or zombie scientist?

Kathrin Maedler: persecuted genius or zombie scientist?

The prize-winning German pharmacologist and diabetes researcher Kathrin Maedler is regularly in the German and international news, either as a celebrated genius about to cure diabetes or as a potential cheater, responsible for masses of duplicated images in her publications. The rectorate of her own University of Bremen absolved their professor of all suspicions of data manipulations, while admitting image duplications and loss of original data. One argument was that all results were successfully reproduced, yet by whom: that the Bremen rectorate prefers not to answer, together with all other relevant questions which would have made this investigation anywhere credible. In the same vein, another investigation at the University of Zürich in Switzerland, where Maedler did her PhD in 2000-2004 under the supervision of Marc Donath, absolved them both of any suspicion of misconduct as well, while refusing to provide any further explanations. Meanwhile, other labs have refuted Maedler’s discoveries, but these publications were dismissed by the University of Bremen as irrelevant. Maedler also had to retract a publication Ardestani et al 2011 from the Journal of Biological Chemistry (which is known to have a rather tough stance on suspected misconduct). Continue reading “Kathrin Maedler: persecuted genius or zombie scientist?”