Trachea transplanters without borders

Trachea transplanters without borders

News from the trachea transplant entrepreneurs. What with the UK authorities having officially suspended both phase 1 clinical trials Inspire and RegenVox, and the EU phase 2 clinical trial TETRA going nowhere, the technology’s owner, Liverpool-based company Videregen decided to seek new clinical partners. Surgeons and universities from outside the EU, especially from US, China and Japan are invited to test Videregen’s trachea transplant technology, which was originally developed together with Paolo Macchiarini by the UCL laryngologist and paid Videregen advisor Martin Birchall.

While tracheal stenosis was the indication sought to treat with trachea transplants in UK and EU (as the authorities drew curtains before the show even started), Videregen now goes for bronchopleural fistula, while pretending (quite dishonestly) that “all required regulatory and ethical approvals necessary to commence clinical trials in the UK” would exist.

The other bit of news is that UCL finally published the 2015 PhD thesis of Birchall’s student Claire Crowley (now postdoctoral scientist in charge of clinical research on oesophagus replacement with UCL professor and another trachea transplanter Paolo De Coppi). It reads as if certain parts of the thesis were edited or even written by UCL’s legal department. Not what thesis says, but what is omitted is worrisome. Crowley was namely responsible for the production of 3 trachea replacements requested by Birchall, which all proved deadly to their human recipients. One was a decellurised cadaveric graft, and two were POSS-PCU plastic tracheas, which Crowley made herself, in the lab of her other advisor, the (now sacked) UCL nanotechnologist Alexander Seifalian. Yet the thesis only mentions one graft, in a brief one-page statement, simply because Crowley could not deny her role there. She is co-author on the Macchiarini paper Jungebluth et al Lancet 2011 telling the alleged success story of the very first plastic trachea transplant performed in Sweden on the patient Andemariam Beyene. Otherwise, Crowley never mentions in her thesis the cases of Keziah Shorten or Shauna Davison, whose lethal trachea grafts she also made herself, as part of her PhD studies. Continue reading “Trachea transplanters without borders”

The decadence of German medical doctorate

The decadence of German medical doctorate

Germany is a country where a doctorate still invites respect and even deference, in certain circles at least. Here, the prefix “Dr.” even becomes official part of your name, while your professorial thesis advisor is reverentially called “Doktorvater”- doctoral father (there is no appropriate term for female supervisors, which makes the concept even more embarrassing these days). There is a whole zoo of German doctorate degrees, biologists and other natural scientists are generally “Dr. rer. nat.” and medical doctors are “Dr. med”. Unlike in the Anglo-Saxon model, German physicians do not receive a default MD title with graduation, they can only call themselves Herr or Frau Doktor once they wrote and defended a dissertation at their university.

The thing which angers German life scientists (and others) about this peculiar German medical doctorate, is that it is relatively easy to get, while providing equal, if not better, academic advantage as their own PhD-like Dr. rer. nat. Biologists need between 3 and 5 years to have enough material for a thesis, while their medical colleagues invest often less than a year, and even this in-between their university lectures, courses and exams. The medical dissertations themselves accordingly often contain little (if any) own research and are much shorter, occasionally just a couple of pages describing the attached co-authored publications (doctors publish a lot, often the sheer quantity counts). This lightweight model is exactly what generally prevents German medical doctors from having their titles recognized in the US or elsewhere as a PhD degree. In Germany however, both Dr. rer. nat. and Dr. med. have an equal value when academic jobs are distributed. Continue reading “The decadence of German medical doctorate”

Future of PhD: rabid social Darwinism and wicked concepts for more power abuse

Future of PhD: rabid social Darwinism and wicked concepts for more power abuse

Nature News made a survey and asked scientists about the perspectives of PhD. The tag line goes:

“There are too many PhD students for too few academic jobs — but with imagination, the problem could be solved”.

One of the suggestions, by Anthony Hyman, cell biologist and director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, is to “split” the PhD. Nature News reports:

“Students in the academic-track PhD would focus on blue-skies research and discovery, he says. A vocational PhD would be more structured and directed towards specific careers in areas such as radiography, machine learning or mouse-model development”.

To me, this idea, unless Hyman has not thought it properly through, can be only described as wicked, exactly because it is perfectly applicable. All one needs, is the will to actually do something so unscrupulous and nefarious.

The article opens with Paula Stephan, full professor of economics and associate dean at Georgia State University, USA,  demanding “that graduate departments partake in birth control”. I am not sure whether depriving a large number of hopeful, ambitious and intelligent young people from access to PhD education is comparable to the wriggling sperm inside a discharged condom. It seems, the tenured faculty cynicism towards those who wish to make same careers as they did, has reached new, unsavoury levels. It is also a pity that Nature News chose to retain Stephan’s wording about “birth control” unchallenged.

Nevertheless, the problem is there and it needs to be somehow solved. Continue reading “Future of PhD: rabid social Darwinism and wicked concepts for more power abuse”