Published: 18-10-2017 10:34 | Updated: 18-10-2017 11:11

Investigation into Paolo Macchiarini’s animal experiments

An external investigation into the animal experiments conducted by Paolo Macchiarini in the animal facilities of Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge reveals shortcomings in the control of his group and its way of conducting experiments and complying with ethical permits. The investigation was commissioned in December 2016 by KI’s acting vice-chancellor, Karin Dahlman-Wright and hospital director Melvin Samsom.

Investigator Patricia Hedenqvist, docent of laboratory animal medicine at Sweden’s University of Agricultural Sciences confirms the serious consequences this can have for animal welfare. The investigation into Paolo Macchiarini’s animal experiments lists several serious failings in animal handling and poor or missing documentation.

“The animal experimentation taken up by the report is objectionable and ethically indefensible,” says Ole Petter Ottersen, vice-chancellor at Karolinska Institutet. “We’re treating its conclusion that there was an abdication of responsibility on several levels extremely seriously and will be following it up in our continuing efforts to raise the quality of our animal experimentation.”

Case reopened

It was in February 2016 that newly appointed acting vice-chancellor Karin Dahlman-Wright decided to reopen the scientific misconduct case against Paolo Macchiarini, and to have a total of seven scientific papers assessed by the Central Ethical Review Board’s (CEPN) expert group for misconduct. Macchiarini was dismissed the following month.

The Central Ethical Review Board’s expert group on scientific misconduct asked expert Professor Eva Ekblad to comment on the article entitled “Experimental orthotopic transplantation of a tissue-engineered oesophagus in rats” published in Nature Communications 2014 (and withdrawn in March 2017).

Professor Ekblad noted in her official statement to CEPN that there were several uncertainties concerning Paolo Macchiarini’s animal experimentation as reported on in the article.

KI then decided to extend its investigations into the handling of animals.

Investigations commissioned

In September 2016, KI requested an investigation into possible failings in animal handling at the animal facility of Karolinska University Hospital where Paolo Macchiarini conducted his experiments.

An external investigation was also commissioned in December 2016, the results of which have now been presented by Dr Hedenqvist. A review is already underway of animal facility management and on the influence of researchers on KI’s animal laboratories; the recommendations of Dr Hedenqvist’s report, says Ole Petter Ottersen, will form part of this review:

“It is vital that KI maintains the highest quality of animal research and that the rules are obeyed,” he says. “It’s also vital that we adopt an ethical approach and make sure we keep the best possible environments for our animals. This must apply to all animal experimentation, regardless of where our researchers conduct it.”

KI and Karolinska University Hospital have made substantial investments in recent years in animal research.

“We want KI’s researchers to have access to Europe’s most modern animal laboratories. The investigation into Paolo Macchiarini’s animal experiments highlights the risk of anomalies that must not be allowed to occur, and the investigations we’re now conducting aim to mitigate this risk,” says Ole Petter Ottersen.