Lessons from the story of a superstar scientists overstating his progress at a complacent research institute
It has taken several deaths for Paolo Macchiarini to be found guilty of scientific fraud and medical misconduct. He was the ultimate star surgeon, delivering the promises of regenerative medicine. He focused on building artificial trachea seeded with the stem cells of his patients.
However, his work, experts have since revealed, was closer to fiction than life-saving clinical treatment. In reality, his experimental research on what turned out to be human guinea pigs had no sound preclinical research foundation. Indeed, one of the issues, was that the vascularisation of such artificial graph has not been proven to work in the lab–let alone in patients.
To save or prolong life in the absence of any alternative treatment could have made such transplants medically acceptable. The trouble is that the life of the three patients transplanted in 2011 and 2012 at the Karolinska Institute Hospital was under no immediate threat. Two of the three have since died. And there were five other additional transplant of this kind, among others, at the Kuban State Medical University in Krasnodar, Russia.