The Swedish Karolinska Institutet (KI) is going through turbulent times. The Paolo Macchiarini scandal sensitised the European elite biomedical research centre and home of the Nobel Prize not just to patient abuse, but also to research misconduct and data manipulations, which its past professor Macchiarini was found guilty of. The misconduct and patient abuse investigations are ongoing. In parallel, several non-clinical KI professors were or still are under KI investigation, because of PubPeer evidence against their publications, as I reported before on my site. Two of them, as I wrote in a separate article, were the autophagy researcher Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg and her former PhD supervisor, the apoptosis specialist Boris Zhivotovsky. Both are now finally and irrevocably acquitted by KI of all suspicions of data manipulations in their common publications. The case is closed, there will be no external investigation.
In a previous decision regarding 9 of her papers, KI performed an amazing show of contortionism to absolve Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg from all suspicions of data manipulation (see this report). In one case, manipulated data was declared as non-existent because the paper containing it (Shen et al, Oncogene 2008) was retracted, and hence non-existent itself. No papers from Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg’s postdoctoral period in the US in the lab of Junying Yuan in Harvard were scrutinised by KI, despite the fact that KI originally based their decision to recruit Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg as assistant professor in no small part on these very publications. For example, western blot images from Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg et al, Genes & Dev 2013 were apparently re-used in her new lab’s paper in KI, Xia et al JCB 2015, see this PubPeer evidence: Continue reading “Karolinska embarrasses itself to save two professors”
Below I am re-publishing an interview which the Russian health journalist Alla Astakhova conducted with the Swedish journalist Johannes Wahlström. Wahlström’s work for the Swedish television SVT, together with Bosse Lindquist, was decisive in uncovering the patient abuse by the fallen star surgeon Paolo Macchiarini (see here the full list of trachea transplant patients). Without the dedicated work of the Swedish journalists, Macchiarini would probably still be experimenting on humans with his cadaveric and plastic tracheas, generating even more death and suffering in the process. In the interview with Astakhova, Wahlström tells about his research for the famous SVT film Experimenten, and how the SVT team found out about the four Karolinska Institutet whistleblowers Oscar Simonson, Karl-Henrik Grinnemo, Matthias Corbascio and Thomas Fux (see my reports about them here, here and here).
For Wahlström, the scandal is not just about Macchiarini. The central figures here are the abused patients, most, if not almost all of them no longer alive. And Macchiarini is not the only one guilty. Wahlström explains how everyone else orbiting that grandiose thorax surgeon was co-responsible, by looking away, covering things up or contributing their small share to the grand horror. The multilingual Swedish journalist specifically criticises the irresponsible dishonesty of Macchiarini’s Russian surgeon partners Vladimir Parshin and Igor Polyakov in the face of the catastrophe they participated in, or the bizarre attitude of Macchiarini’s biographer and Megagrant-manager Elena Kokurina, who seems to have been deliberately avoiding learning the real fate of his patients. Wahlström also questions the ethics of German TV producers who decided to air their Macchiarini-extolling documentary Supercells! in Germany and France despite knowing that its protagonist, Yulia Tuulik, was not cured at all. She was miserably dying. Continue reading “The one who asked questions: interview with Johannes Wahlström, by Alla Astakhova”
Sweden and the international research community recently faced yet another research misconduct scandal. It was about a Science paper by Oona Lönnstedt and Peter Eklöv, which in 2016 made worldwide headlines with its findings that young fish larvae (or fry), namely Eurasian perch, would eat up plastic pollution like teenagers eat fast food. It soon turned out the research was apparently never performed as described, the original data was missing (allegedly stored only on a laptop, which was then stolen from a car), the results likely made up. The Lönnstedt & Eklöv 2016 paper received an editorial expression of concern in December 2016 and was eventually retracted on May 26th 2017 following misconduct findings by the Swedish Central Ethics Review Board (CEPN), while the two Swedish whistleblowers Josefin Sundin and Fredrik Jutfelt, initially themselves stiffly criticised by the University of Uppsala, were finally exonerated (see panel verdict here and here, further documents here and here). I also make available here the original report by the whistleblowers to the University of Uppsala and CEPN, detailing their “Key points highlighting scientific misconduct by Lönnstedt and Eklöv”. For further reference, read Martin Enserink’s reporting for Science here, here and here.
However, there was more to that Science paper than fraudulent science. Even if the results were not made up, their objective scientific value would still be very questionable, because it had very little connection to the reality of the plastic pollution in the oceans and the fish feeding behavior. The uniformly small, freshly industrially synthesized plastic balls which were fed to the fishes were not really representative of the actual plastic particles polluting our seas. But even those arbitrary chosen particles were not likely to have been eaten by the fishes voluntarily. If the fishes ever did swallow those, it was probably because they were simply made to, being at the point of death by starvation, something which rarely ever happens to actual plankton-feeding fishes in the sea. Of course one cannot expect peer reviewers to spot misconduct and data manipulation, but objectively assessing scientific methodology, result and conclusions of a manuscript is actually what the peer review is all about. One does wonder why the “highly qualified, dedicated” reviewers at Science failed to notice all these obvious scientific shortcomings, and instead decided that Lönnstedt & Eklöv work belonged indeed to “the very best in scientific research”. Was it because the socially and ecologically relevant conclusions sounded so important and welcome, that one simply had to blindly ignore the poor science behind them?
Continue reading “Fishy peer review at Science, by citizen scientist Ted Held”
The Swedish Karolinska Institutet (KI) has investigated its own cell biologist and well-funded autophagy researcher Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg, following my publishing of a dossier with evidence for data manipulations in her papers. Also PubPeer evidence was considered. This was a second investigation of Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg, who was fully acquitted by KI already in 2016. While the new KI investigation progressed, one of Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg’s publications was retracted (Shen et al, Oncogene 2008), due to image duplications and unavailability of original data. With their second decision, KI again exonerated Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg from all suspicions. One of the reasons was: since the Shen et al 2008 is retracted, it ceases to exist. Hence, all image duplications it shares with other Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg papers cease existing also. Other arguments were the author’s assertions to have reproduced more than 10 year old results faithfully (since the original data was unavailable), or her presenting evidence that similar looking images were in fact dissimilar. Unfortunately, where such original data could be recovered, it was shown only to internal investigators at KI, noone else. The case is closed, no appeal is possible. There will be no corrections even, unless journals do the unlikely thing and decide not to accept the KI decision.
Another Vakifahmetoglu paper (Imreh et al, J Cell Biol. 2011) is still under KI investigation but she has officially nothing to do with it. KI announced to follow this through with her former boss and the paper’s last author, Boris Zhivotovsky. He is under another KI investigation already, together with several of his colleagues including the department’s prefect Ulla Stenius (see my report here), who received the KI letter about Vakifahmetoglu whitewashing in cc. Continue reading “Data manipulation evidence in Helin Vakifahmetoglu papers “warrants no further consideration””
Bad times for the scandal surgeon Paolo Macchiarini and his acolyte Philipp Jungebluth. Misconduct findings led previously to retraction of an oesophagus transplant paper, with more soon to be expected, their employments in academia seem to be definitely a thing of a past. Macchiarini’s big plans of world-shattering trachea and oesophagus transplants in Russia went bust, when his grant funding was not extended and the Federal University of Kazan waved him goodbye. The master’s acolyte Jungebluth is currently suing me in court about my reporting on his own past employment, because he managed to convince the Berlin judge when passing the injunction that all his now proven research misconduct and patient abuse, which led to deaths of several patients, plus several other dishonest deeds of his, had in fact perfectly qualified him for an academic research career at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. A career he claims to have aborted entirely on his own accord, hence his (now only 1/3 successful) court injunction against me. Jungebluth, after having said farewell to his 8 years of thorax surgery training in vain, even claimed in court to be desperately wanted as thoracic surgeon by all Berlin hospitals, including the huge university hospital Charité.
Which brings us to the recent setback for the two trachea transplanters. Their publications regarding the plastic trachea operations at the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, which left three patients dead, were investigated by two external experts. One of the experts was Martin Björck, professor of surgery at University of Uppsala, the other was Detlev Ganten, professor emeritus of pharmacology and former CEO of the Charité. And their fresh report, submitted to the Swedish Central Ethics Review Board (CEPN), does not read like the Berlin Charité or any other medical research institution in Germany, or anywhere else for that matter, might ever consider employing Jungebluth. The central Lancet publication, describing the first plastic trachea transplant performed on Andemariam Beyene (Jungebluth et al, 2011), was slammed as based on misconduct, both ethical as well as research misconduct. It is the same Lancet paper Jungebluth presented to Berlin court as evidence of his scientific fame and excellence.
Continue reading “Expert review: Macchiarini papers on plastic trachea transplants are misconduct”
This article lists all known (including those not officially declared) patients of the scandal surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who received from him a cadaveric or plastic trachea. All these grafts were “regenerated” with bone marrow and epithelial cells, in some cases a bioreactor was used to incubate cells on the trachea carcass, in some cases a “bionic” method was applied, where cells were brought straight into the open patient, together with growth factors like EPO. Not all patients are named in my list, though names of all are available, certainly at the hospitals where they were treated. One of my sources is a patients list from the Careggi Hospital in Florence, Italy, which the Corriere Fiorentino journalist Alessio Gaggioli sent me. Some of the patients I already described in an earlier article.
This now is a full list, and it will be updated whenever I receive any new evidence. All Macchiarini trachea transplant patients are listed in the chronological order of their operation. The 2003 operated patient (story here), who received from Macchiarini (together with Heike and Thorsten Walles) a small “regenerated” tracheal patch of pig intestine, is not included here, as it was not a trachea transplant as such. There is a total of 17 patients, at least 11 are dead, the rest, if alive, were left mutilated.
Continue reading “Macchiarini’s trachea transplant patients: the full list”
Game over apparently near for the indestructible Swedish regenerative medicine researcher Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson, after investigations at her University of Gothenburg draw to an end. It is about experimental transplants of decellurised veins “regenerated” with the patient’s own bone marrow cells into three child patients, all of whom ended up in life-long medical care, one patient received a liver transplant after her graft failed, another child suffered severe complications (see this earlier report about an external investigation by Bengt Gerdin into that matter). The University of Gothenburg then established an investigative committee, which followed up on the Gerdin report and specific concerns voiced by a journal editor and a colleague. I publish below the two decisions which revealed that Sumitran-Holgersson and her surgeon partner Michael Olausson never performed any animal testing before recruiting their human patients, they also failed to obtain ethics permits for these operations. Instead the two lied in their publications (Olausson et al, Lancet, 2012; Olausson et al EBioMedicine, 2014) about having obtained ethics votes (something I already uncovered before). During the investigation, Olausson and Sumitran-Holgersson were caught submitting false information to the committee. They were now found guilty of misconduct and ethics breach in both these publications. Continue reading “Sumitran-Holgersson and Olausson guilty of misconduct and unethical experiments on children”