Published: 28-01-2016 16:46 | Updated: 09-05-2016 13:24

Comment on the TV documentary ”Experimenten”

Commentary: Swedish Television (SVT) has made three programmes investigating Professor Paolo Macchiarini, a researcher employed at KI. The programmes contained information that was unknown to the university management, which means that the inquiry into suspected scientific misconduct might be reopened against Professor Macchiarini.

“My conclusion is that we need to examine and evaluate the claims made in the documentary, and will be reopening the inquiry if there is reason to do so,” says Karolinska Institutet’s vice-chancellor, Anders Hamsten.

Professor Hamsten reacted strongly to the material that was shown in the SVT documentary and that concerns operations Professor Macchiarini had performed in Russia.

“We’ve seen footage in SVT’s documentary that is truly alarming, and I empathise deeply with the patients and their relatives. Many of the circumstances, as portrayed in the programme, are wholly irreconcilable with KI’s values and with what we expect of our employees. If what the programme claims about patients being tricked or talked into undergoing surgery on dubious grounds is true, it is naturally altogether inacceptable.”

Professor Macchiarini is currently on a one-year research contract with Karolinska Institutet, and it is too early to say what will happen to his employment status.

“The information presented in the SVT documentaries and other media are naturally very grave, but we must get to the bottom of this ourselves, and not simply judge someone based on reports in the media,” says Professor Hamsten.

Professor Macchiarini was on a part-time contract at Karolinska Institutet from 2010 to 2015, and had approved extra-occupational activities in Krasnodar, Russia. Although the university management knew that he had operated and researched there, the information that has emerged in the documentaries on the ethical nature of these operations is new to Professor Hamsten.

“The three patients on whom Paolo Macchiarini operated at Karolinska University Hospital in 2011 and 2012 were seriously ill and judged to have little time left to live. We assumed that the same was true for the patients operated on in Krasnodar.”

Karolinska Institutet does not allow secondary occupations that are undermining confidence, and given the way Macchiarini’s activities in Russia have been described in the documentary, they would never have been approved, explains Anders Hamsten.

“KI will now see if the way secondary occupations are reported at the university needs revising so that we may more readily judge the potential harm they can do to our reputation.”

In 2014, Karolinska Institutet opened an extensive inquiry against Professor Macchiarini for suspected scientific misconduct. In his verdict in August 2015 vice-chancellor Anders Hamsten concluded that while on some points Paolo Macchiarini did not meet the high standards set by KI and the scientific community, it does not qualify as scientific misconduct. KI’s inquiry did not concern matters relating to healthcare practices or medical ethics regarding the operations conducted at Karolinska University Hospital, but only whether the articles correctly stated the facts at the time of publication.

One outcome of this inquiry was that KI and Karolinska University Hospital began a review of the boundary separating healthcare and research.

The division of responsibility between KI and Karolinska University Hospital is such that the medical and therapeutic responsibility for the patients operated on in Sweden falls under the remit of the hospital. Since 2013, no such operations have taken place in Sweden, and the last one in Russia was in June 2014.

On 5 January, Vanity Fair published an article in which it was claimed that Professor Macchiarini gave false information in his CV on his recruitment at KI in 2010. This information is currently under investigation by Karolinska Institutet.

“As an academic institution, Karolinska Institutet’s role is to create new knowledge, and that takes creative, innovative researchers. On recruiting Paolo Macchiarini in 2010, the university made the normal assessments and checks that, in the vast majority of cases, provide an accurate guide. For many years, KI has endeavoured to build up knowledge in the new field of regenerative medicine, and at the time, employing Professor Macchiarini was deemed the right thing to do.

Comment from Karolinska University Hospital (in Swedish).