A scientist was “dismissed” by the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, UK. All evidence points towards that it was the cell biologist Irina Stancheva who specialises on the epigenetics and regulatory methylation of DNA, and who departed from the university recently, after a forced leave. She also has an impressive record on PubPeer, where her publications where flagged for suspected data manipulations around 2 years ago. The suspicions were mostly of western blot band re-use and duplication. Around same time, an investigation started about these PubPeer issues, and by now Stancheva’s name does not feature of the Department’s list of academic staff. A archived version from December 2016 does feature Stancheva, but not that of August 2017. Her institutional website was deleted just hours after I sent my email inquiries to her former faculty colleagues. Continue reading “After misconduct investigation, Irina Stancheva left Edinburgh, in secret”
The London university UCL has now completed the investigation into the affair around their past honorary professor and now disgraced thoracic surgeon Paolo Macchiarini and the trachea transplants. Subject of the investigation were: the two plastic tracheas UCL produced (one sent to Karolinska Institutet and implanted in patient Andemariam Beyene in Stockholm, another used by UCL laryngologist Martin Birchall to treat Keziah Shorten, who previously received a cadaveric trachea from Macchiarini as requested by UCL) as well as four more cadaveric trachea transplants, namely the very first such intervention organised by Macchiarini and Birchall in Barcelona in 2008, on patient Claudia Castillo, as well as the three trachea transplants which took place under UCL oversight in London, on paediatric patients Ciaran Lynch, Shauna Davison and a 3-year old child who was transplanted just in May 2017 at the same Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). The offhand revelations about the last transplant in this UCL report came as surprise, since it was otherwise kept secret.
No information is provided by the investigative report on how that child is doing now, in fact it seems no evidence like laboratory books, research data or patients’ medical files was ever requested and the committee relied solely on the opinions provided by the very people they were supposed to investigate: Paolo Macchiarini, Martin Birchall and GOSH paediatric surgeon and past director Martin Elliott. In fact, the report seems to become very nebulous or even creative with its use of alternative facts to avoid implicating Birchall in anything unethical at all. The only guilty party in this medical scandal is incidentally also the only non-clinician and the only non-white character in the entire Macchiarini affair: the nuclear physicist Alexander Seifalian, a Persian-Armenian and dual citizen of Iran and UK, whose lab manufactured two plastic tracheas. He was already sacked by UCL in July 2016, accused of bribery. Seifalian is also bowel cancer survivor, which did not prevent UCL of accusing him of failing to oversee the abroad clinical application of his produce just when he was receiving chemotherapy.
These are the results of UCL investigation in the nutshell:
- All UCL-employed clinicians involved in trachea transplants, in particular UCL’s chief trachea transplanter Martin Birchall, are fully acquitted from any suspicion of misconduct or clinical wrongdoing. Even Macchiarini seems partially exonerated from the gist of the UCL report, because:
- The maker of the two plastic tracheas, Alexander Seifalian, is to take all the UCL-related blame for the failed transplants (as well as other plastics implants in India, Iran and Switzerland). His fault is to have manufactured these products though his UCL lab lacked GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certificate. Only this lack of GMP-quality seal was what apparently made plastic tracheas too dangerous to implant in humans.
- All five cadaveric trachea transplants under the scope of investigation were considered ethically, medically and scientifically justified. Deaths of the patients were explained with new discoveries of recurrent cancer, or demands of other patients for the same hospital bed.
- Birchall’s clinical trials with cadaveric tracheas (phase 1/2a INSPIRE, and by extension, also EU-wide phase 2 TETRA) are to go ahead as planned and to recruit patients. Same positive recommendation for Birchall’s related trial RegenVox on cadaveric larynx, decellurised and “regenerated” with same technology as tracheas.
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. 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 here. Continue reading “EU commemorates dead patients of Macchiarini & Birchall with a phase 2 trachea transplant trial TETRA”
Regarding the Olivier Voinnet scandal and a recent data integrity case in Germany (marginally featuring a current group leader of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK), I had an email exchange with the director of this British plant science research centre, Dale Sanders. It started with Sanders demanding of me to cease-and desist from ever associating the misconduct-tainted cheater professor Voinnet with his John Innes Centre (despite that connection being very well-documented), and ended with Sanders calling me an “internet troll” and decreeing that my Voinnet reporting is not worth ever being read because it has not been peer reviewed.
The whole case revolves around the former star of plant sciences and current ETH professor Voinnet, though it is actually not at all about him or his own data manipulations. In July 2017, I brought an article, where concerns about the data integrity in publications of a very senior and influential German yeast biologist, Roland Lill, were raised on PubPeer. A past member of Lill’s lab, his PhD student Heike Lange, is now tenured researcher at the same CNRS institute in Strasbourg where Voinnet did most of his data manipulations. Lange has a number of papers which contain what clearly looks like duplicated western blot bands, she and LIll went to PubPeer to declare that the bands were never duplicated (details in my article). Yet Lange and Lill never substantiated their claims or showed any original gel scans for their common papers, which lets one wonder if those actually exist.
It turned out somewhat differently with another former PhD student of Lill, Janneke Balk, who is now the above mentioned group leader at Sanders’ John Innes Centre. Two common papers of Balk and Lill were flagged on PubPeer: Balk et al EMBO J 2004 and Balk et al, Mol Cell Biol. 2005. She has not managed to address the concerns about the former yet (more about it later), but she did reply on PubPeer to the evidence of gel band duplication by admitting the copy-paste, posting the original gels and explaining at length exactly which band was duplicated and why:
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.
Keziah Shorten was a 19-year old teenager from England and officially Paolo Macchiarini 3rd patient receiving a cadaveric trachea transplant. She suffered from a slow growing form of cancer and received a cadaveric trachea transplant from Macchiarini at the Careggi hospital in Florence. After life-threatening complications ensued, her second transplant, a plastic trachea made and implanted at UCL and its UCL hospital (UCLH) in London, failed also. Keziah died one and a half years after her first operation. With new evidence provided to me by a source close to the patient, I present here a version of Keziah’s story which is very much different from the official one. This makes UCL and UCLH at least in part responsible for her death, from the very beginning. It was their decision to treat Keziah with the first cadaveric transplant, which sealed her fate. Next to the UCL honorary professor Macchiarini himself, the British doctors, who according to my source promised Keziah a complete cure and initiated this transplant, were UCL professors and surgeons Martin Birchall and Paul O’Flynn. Keziah was even supposed to be operated at UCLH, but once Macchiarini got an ethics permit in Italy, she was moved there. O’Flynn followed her and joined Macchiarini in the transplant operation. Afterwards, it was an ongoing catastrophe which was exacerbated by an apparent botched intervention at UCL Hospital. Death seemed a relief after terrible suffering imposed on Keziah by fame-seeking doctors worshipping their own magic of regenerative medicine. Continue reading “Keziah’s deadly trachea transplant: UCL hospital’s secret”
Trachea is a very difficult organ to transplant, because its blood supply happens through many tiny blood vessels and it is practically impossible to connect them all (same is true also for the oesophagus). An organ transplanted without blood supply will die, and this is where the regenerative medicine of Paolo Macchiarini and Martin Birchall comes in: a treatment with stem cells and growth factors will somehow magically ensure quick vascularization and bring the dead tissue to life. There is no independent evidence for this, and most patients died as the consequence or became dangerously ill when their new tracheas, made from plastic or from dead, decellurised cadaveric organs predictably failed. One boy has survived: Ciaran Lynch. His current clinical state is not too rosy, even by Birchall’s own admittance, but nevertheless the sole fact that Ciaran (unlike almost all other trachea transplant patients) is alive, sufficed for Birchall to have one or two more patients operated (both dead) and to push through a clinical trial in UK with a much larger follow-up trial EU-wide. The difference though: that boy never had much choice anyway, since he had no real trachea in the first place. He received very early on a pickled trachea homograft from dead human donor tissue which functioned very well for many years, but at some point urgently needed replacement in order to save his life. Now Birchall however wishes to remove the live airways of stable patients outside any life danger, who suffer from tracheal stenosis, and replace them with his regenerated dead ones (see this report). Noone seems to wonder why these tracheas are to be prepared in a radically different way from that of the sole success, Ciaran Lynch: Birchall’s bioreactor vs so-called “bionic” method of Macchiarini.