Human Brain Project and other Flagships: is EU outsourcing funding decisions?

Human Brain Project and other Flagships: is EU outsourcing funding decisions?

The EU €1-Billion-Flagship Human Brain Project (HBP) started in 2013 as an closed enterprise run by three men. The triumvirate is no more:  the visionary founder Henry Markram sidelined into almost insignificance after a coup, his Lausanne colleague Richard Frackowiak almost retired, only the German Karlheinz Meier, physics professor at University of Heidelberg, still seems to hold quite a lot of sway. The control of HBP is now basically in German hands: the “independent” mediator of the anti-Markram coup and director of Forschungzentrum Jülich (FZJ), Wolfgang Marquardt, is key member of the all-decisive HBP Stakeholder Board representing Germany, his FZJ colleague Katrin Amunts is the new scientific director of HBP. The bombastic goal of HBP used to be simulating the human brain in a supercomputer, including various brain diseases and even consciousness (read here and here for HBP background). That Markram’s “brain child” was silently mothballed, the big plan is now only revealed to select insider audiences (who occasionally blab on Twitter). The once high and mighty Markram, whose not-so-groundbreaking Cell paper (Markram et al, 2015) was once touted as HBP’s mega-success, was apparently forced to publish his recent brain simulation research in his own publishing outlet Frontiers (Reimann et al 2017), where he proclaimed a discovery of nothing less but a “Multi-Dimensional Universe in Brain Networks”. Regardless of what Markram thinks he is doing or what fairy tales HBP graduate students are told: dissolving the monster HBP and redistributing its EU funding onto smaller projects was obviously not an opinion. The new purpose of HBP seems to be:

  • distributing the EU Flagship money, in the way HBP see it best fit, thus
  • sparing the EU Commission the tedious work of research grant reviewing and management

Continue reading “Human Brain Project and other Flagships: is EU outsourcing funding decisions?”

Paul-Ehrlich Institute admits to have approved Walles tracheal transplant over phone, without questions

Paul-Ehrlich Institute admits to have approved Walles tracheal transplant over phone, without questions

The German trachea transplanters Heike and Thorsten Walles treated the 3 patients with their pig-intestine-based tracheal transplants (one of them performed with Paolo Macchiarini). They are currently suing me in court for reporting about those, while their employer, the University of Würzburg, investigates these tracheal transplants together with the evidence for blatant data manipulations in several Walles publications on suspicion of misconduct. None of those 3 patients is alive today, yet Walles insist that neither of their transplant operations was in any way related to the patients deaths or that it might have reduced their quality of life. They keep declaring those operations as resounding successes, free from any evidence, though the last transplant was performed in 2009 and never again. A corresponding clinical trial, financed by the German Ministry of Education and Research with €1.5 Million between 2009 and 2015 (and briefly mentioned at the beginning of the PEI letter), did not achieve even a single milestone. Not even animal experiments were permitted by the responsible watchdog institution, the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI). For almost 7 months, PEI refused to answer my Freedom of Information inquiry. It seems however, my complaints to authorities and the Federal Ministry of Health, finally had an effect.

Continue reading “Paul-Ehrlich Institute admits to have approved Walles tracheal transplant over phone, without questions”

Walles misconduct investigation in Würzburg widens inside a federal cover-up; Jungebluth’s dissertation whitewashed in Hannover

Walles misconduct investigation in Würzburg widens inside a federal cover-up; Jungebluth’s dissertation whitewashed in Hannover

The court litigation of the German trachea transplanters Heike and Thorsten Walles against me and my reporting has moved into the appeal stage. The appeal hearing will be on July 3rd 2017 in the Bavarian Higher State Court (Oberlandesgericht) in Bamberg. At the same time, the Walles case turns into an institutional conspiracy farce straight of a bad spy novel, which seems to go up to the very top, including the German government.

The central German watchdog on regenerative medicine, the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), keeps breaking German federal law on Freedom of Information (FOI, Informationsfreiheitsgesetz) by refusing to comment on the legality of the 3 tracheal transplants Walles performed (one of them with Paolo Macchiarini). The FOI oversight authority (Bundesbeauftragter für Informationsfreiheit) failed despite several attempts to get PEI to adhere to this federal law and gave up, after admitting to me to lack any means to enforce it.  My repeated complaints to the German Federal Ministry of Health, under whose roof PEI operates, did not even achieve an acknowledgement of receipt.

Meanwhile, their current employer, the University of Würzburg, has widened its misconduct investigations against Walles, to collaborate with their past employer, the Hannover Medical School (MHH) and the hospital where two tracheal transplants were performed by Thorsten Walles, the Clinic Schillerhöhe in Stuttgart.  It is another question how collaborative or in fact keen on investigating anything at all these two institutions will be. The Stuttgart hospital decided to transplant two patients in 2007 and 2009 with Walles-made pig-intestine-based tracheal grafts in absence of own internal ethics review board and without procuring an ethics vote from an appropriate external institution (instead, they approached an inappropriate one, were sent away, and published this refusal of ethics opinion as an ethics approval).

The medical university MHH on the other hand seems to have no clue what medical ethics are. Just recently, they declared the MD dissertation of Macchiarini’s student Philipp Jungebluth to be utterly unproblematic and refused to investigate it. In light of this and a previous incident (see below), it appears MHH sees foreign patients abroad to be equivalent to research animals.

Even more significant about the widening of the Würzburg investigation is namely who apparently decided not to participate in it.

Continue reading “Walles misconduct investigation in Würzburg widens inside a federal cover-up; Jungebluth’s dissertation whitewashed in Hannover”

Lack of transparency in ERC funding decisions, by Shravan Vasishth

Lack of transparency in ERC funding decisions, by Shravan Vasishth

Academic research is dependent on funding, and funding agencies, both public and charity ones, play a crucial gatekeeper function in deciding who will go on to continue researching or even working in science, and who will not. With great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, funders traditionally end up serving the interests of select elite scientists by confusing the needs of those with the greater good of science as such. Money is dumped on the biggest pile, either to established star researchers or to their privileged academic scions. In this zero-sum game of science funding, many early career researchers see their grant applications rejected and are forced out of academia. The logic seems to be that this research proletariat would have spent it on booze and candy anyway, while the high elite will be investing it wisely to produce great science. Or whatever the funders, advised by that very elite, perceive to be great science. The guest post below by Shravan Vasishth, professor for psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics at the University of Potsdam, Germany, tells of a peer reviewer experience of his when it hit against such attitude from the most prestigious EU research funder, the European Research Council (ERC).

Continue reading “Lack of transparency in ERC funding decisions, by Shravan Vasishth”

Will words or actual evidence count in the Walles case?

Will words or actual evidence count in the Walles case?

On March 16th I stood a court trial by the trachea transplanters and University of Würzburg professors  Heike and Thorsten Walles against myself. The judge (it was the same who passed the injunction against me) will announce his decision on April 6th, just as I will stand trial in Berlin against their trachea transplant colleague Philipp Jungebluth (see this report). I publish here an extended memory-based protocol which I first published on Facebook. Meanwhile, several large institutions built a protective wall of silence around Walles and their tracheal transplants. The German Medical Association refused investigation in a bizarre letter which I also publish below.

The court hearing

It was the so-called speed trial, so instead of examining evidence, everyone was free to tell the judge their views. Mostly, Walles and their lawyer spoke, occasionally, my lawyer and I were able to squeeze a word in to reject the outlandish or false claims. For example, while her lawyer insisted the tracheal transplants were full success despite dead patients, Heike Walles challenged me to compare her transplants with the first heart transplant which failed. I pointed out that this is exactly the same argument Paolo Macchiarini uses to defend his own failed trachea transplants (for example, here). Continue reading “Will words or actual evidence count in the Walles case?”

The Kenneth Chien Case at Karolinska, by Johan Thyberg

The Kenneth Chien Case at Karolinska, by Johan Thyberg

This is a new guest post from Johan Thyberg, a retired professor for cell and molecular biology from Sweden, a known activist against science fraud and author of the 2009 book “Scientific Fraud or Legal Scandal?”. Thyberg played a key role in uncovering the research misconduct and horrendous patient abuse around the trachea transplant surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, which took place at Alma Mater, the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, and left at KI alone 3 patients dead (his last plastic trachea recipient there, Yesim Cetir, died yesterday after years of suffering).

After a previous guest post by Thyberg, which criticised KI’s handling of the Macchiarini scandal, it is an honour for me to present his new article on my site. It deals with another international star of regenerative medicine whom KI recruited soon after Macchiarini: Kenneth Chien. The people who recruited Chien were also the same who made Macchiarini’s professorship at KI possible: the then-chancellor Harriet Wallberg and the cell biology professor Urban Lendahl. Both had to resign from their positions with the KI’s Nobel Committee in the wake of Macchiarini scandal (see my report here).

This is what Chien’s 20-head strong lab is working on at KI, according to its website:

“The central scientific interest of the Chien lab is to understand heart development at the molecular and cellular level, with the ultimate goal of applying the developmental principles, logic, pathways, technology, and model systems to unravel human heart disease”.

According to Thyberg, Chien’s engagement at KI is less about his actual scientific achievements, which seem objectively rather modest relative to his elite status there, but more about personal networks and money, which include pharma industry and a certain Chinese investor. One of these Chien-related businesses is Moderna Therapeutics, a biotech start-up which STAT News brought a critical special report on.

Below I am publishing Thyberg’s own English version article, a Swedish version appeared on March 17th on NewsVoice.

Continue reading “The Kenneth Chien Case at Karolinska, by Johan Thyberg”

Walles tracheal transplant patients: secrets and lies

Walles tracheal transplant patients: secrets and lies

The German trachea transplanters Heike and Thorsten Walles fitted three patients with pig-intestine-based airway grafts. They responded to my inquisitive reporting about these with a court injunction, the trial takes place this week, on March 16th. A commission of their Unversity of Würzburg initially absolved Walles of all suspicions of research misconduct, only to start the investigation anew as evidence of heavy data manipulation in their papers emerged (see my previous report). Roland Jahns, specially recruited as medical expert from the same University Clinic Würzburg where both Walleses work, was dismissed after he insulted me as “pseudoscientist” to defend his colleagues’ questionable attitude to data integrity, medical ethics and patient welfare. A new expert will be recruited, but Jahns did reveal some clues to what happened to the two last Walles patients operated in Stuttgart in 2007 and 2009, just before they received their professorships in Würzburg.

It appears Thorsten Walles issued two radically opposing versions of the 2007 patient’s state. In his publications, he presented the intervention as “compassionate use” case and the patient as stable, but in need of innovative strategies to cure his condition. In the medical file however, Walles described the patient as terminally ill and dying from cancer. The intervention to replace his airways with a never-before-tested pig-intestine large patch was presented as a palliative approach, which however turns the entire concept of either palliative care or compassionate use care on its head. In any case, the graft had to be removed after only 2 weeks, the patient died four weeks later due to massive bleeding and multi-organ failure. Walles decided that this disastrous incident had nothing to do with the transplant, so when they recruited their next patient to sign an informed consent in 2009, they simply didn’t tell him what happened to his predecessor. That last patient was also post-suicidal and in psychiatric treatment (though not yet officially of unsound mind, his mental state further deteriorated later on). Continue reading “Walles tracheal transplant patients: secrets and lies”