Published: 05-09-2016 16:24 | Updated: 05-09-2016 17:18

Karolinska Institutet responds to Heckscher report on the Macchiarini case

Commentary: The findings of the inquiry into the Macchiarini case were presented today to Karolinska Institutet’s board chairman Lars Leijonborg. Commissioned by KI’s University Board, the inquiry was led by former Administrative Supreme Court President Sten Heckscher. The report severely criticises KI’s handling of the case – from the recruitment of Paolo Macchiarini in 2009 to the monitoring of his activities and the management of the scientific misconduct allegations against him.

Their investigations also prompted the authors to criticise the management culture at KI.

Lars Leijonborg and KI’s Acting Vice-Chancellor Karin Dahlman-Wright commented on the report at a press conference.

Leijonborg first thanked the four authors of the report and also extended his thanks to the documentary filmmaker Bosse Lindquist: “It is clear that his films were pivotal in bringing to light important shortcomings at both Karolinska University Hospital and Karolinska Institutet.”

“Those who have been hit hardest by this tragic affair are several patients and their families, “ he continued. “Naturally we are deeply distressed that mistakes at KI have caused suffering and premature death, and we would like to express our very deepest regrets and apologies.”

Leijonborg said that the report paints a clear picture of what happened concerning Paolo Macchiarini since 2009, and commented: “A culture where it is acceptable to occasionally ignore laws, rules, ethics and morals has to change. Based on the Heckscher committee’s recommendations, work will now begin to minimise the risk of anything similar happening again.”

Karin Dahlman-Wright, Acting Vice-Chancellor of Karolinska Institutet, commented: “KI takes the criticisms that have been made very seriously. This is a case in which a long chain of poor and absent decisions enabled a visiting professor to contravene the rules and ethical principles that apply to KI’s activities. Macchiarini himself must bear considerable responsibility in all of this, but it is also very clear that KI failed to monitor compliance with existing rules and procedures.”

She noted that KI has already started to address the failings that emerged following the incident:

  • Rules on extra-occupational activities are being tightened
  • The recruitment process, including the verification of CVs and references, is being strengthened
  • The process for dealing with suspected research fraud has been revised to ensure that cases are handled quickly, transparently and lawfully
  • Work on developing and supporting an open culture and academic leadership has begun
  • Use of a whistle-blower function has been encouraged
  • A special review of the department where Macchiarini was employed has been conducted

This work is being carried out in order to build an internal culture that is open and transparent and clarifies each employee’s roles and responsibilities.

“It is now up to us to show that KI is so much more than just the Macchiarini case,” added Dahlman-Wright. “We have 6,000 students who are in great demand throughout society, not least in the health sector. We also have more than 6,000 research, teaching and other staff who go to work each day with the aim of improving human health.”