• Italy's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Relief at sacking of scandal-hit Italian celeb surgeon
Dr. Paolo Macchiarini in 2010. File photo: Lorenzo Galassi/Ap/TT/NTB Scanpix

Relief at sacking of scandal-hit Italian celeb surgeon

AFP · 27 Mar 2016, 08:54

Published: 27 Mar 2016 08:54 GMT+02:00

Sweden's Karolinska Institute (KI), which awards the Nobel Prize for Medicine, fired Paolo Macchiarini this week after years of controversy.

A pioneer in regenerative medicine, Paolo Macchiarini was born in Switzerland in 1958 and won international renown in 2008 after undertaking a grafted windpipe transplant using stem cells.

In medical circles, his star was rising, and he was invited to Stockholm's KI as a visiting professor in 2010. He attained world fame for completing the first synthetic trachea transplant using stem cells in 2011.

Macchiarini used an ingenious artificial windpipe made of plastic and seeded it with the patient's own stem cells, which are immature cells that grow into specialised cells that ultimately make up each of the body's organs.

His work was initially hailed as a game-changer for transplant medicine, with the surgeon performing three such operations in Stockholm and five others around the world.

"We want to create new organs, like Frankenstein," he said in a documentary broadcast on Swedish public television in January 2016.

But by that time, his star was fading fast.

His troubles began back in 2014 after several surgeons at KI filed a complaint alleging that Macchiarini had downplayed the risks of the procedure.

Six of his eight patients reportedly died, and allegations ensued that the risky procedure had been carried out on at least one individual who had not, at the time, been critically ill.

Karolinska suspended all synthetic trachea transplants shortly after. 

Macchiarini also carried out clinical work in Krasnodar, Russia where patients undergo surgery for research purposes.

But his time there was overshadowed by an internal investigation at KI, as well as the growing number of news stories in the Italian and Swedish media about the doctor's troubled past.

Prosecutors in Florence, Italy have begun a preliminary investigation into Macchiarini after patients accused him of violating the Hippocratic Oath by charging excessive sums of money, sometimes as much as 150,000 euros. 

Swedish police are investigating Macchiarini on suspicion of gross negligent manslaughter and bodily harm, which could entail up to six years in prison.

On Wednesday, the Karolinska Institute decided to dismiss him, permanently cutting ties with the surgeon.

"His actions have had tragic consequences for the individuals concerned and their families," said Mats Engelbrektson, the institute's director of human resources.

"His behaviour has damaged the credibility of KI and research in general."

An article in the Swedish medical journal, Lakartidningen, described the Macchiarini case as an "ethical Chernobyl" for the institute.

KI's vice-chancellor Anders Hamsten, and the general secretary of the Nobel Assembly Urban Lendahl, both resigned in February. The Karolinska Institute's board has largely been replaced in the wake of the controversy.

Macchiarini's dismissal was greeted with relief by the scientific community.

Story continues below…

"I think we're in a very bad period now in Sweden, with this case of fraudulent behaviour, it makes people lose their motivation, especially young people, and it makes people question our integrity," said Lena Claesson-Welsh, a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences.

The doctor is accused of lying about his research by claiming that he conducted tests on animals before attempting similar transplants on human beings. He also faces allegations that he lied about his scientific research and his past experience with prestigious medical research centres.

"Paolo Macchiarini supplied false or misleading information in the CV he submitted to KI," the institute said, adding that he "demonstrated scientific negligence" in his research.

Vanity Fair magazine published an article in February chronicling how Macchiarini and his former fiancee Benita Alexander, a producer for US television network NBC, became engaged.

During their courtship, the doctor reportedly told her he had operated on Bill and Hillary Clinton, Emperor Akihito of Japan and US President Barack Obama. He apparently also promised her that Pope Francis would officiate at their wedding.

Macchiarini's lawyer, Björn Hurtig, declined comment for this story.

Earlier, in an interview with state broadcaster Swedish Radio, he said: "His intention was positive, he only wanted to help people, now he's been scandalized and portrayed negatively throughout the world."

For more news from Italy, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Today's headlines
Italy earthquake
Restaurants donate for servings of famous pasta dish
The famous Amatriciana dish derives from Amatrice, where over 200 died in the earthquake. Photo: ZanPei/Flickr

Italian restaurants around the world have been asked to make €2 donations for every plate of Amatriciana pasta served towards Amatrice, one of the towns devastated by Wednesday’s earthquake.

Italy earthquake
Italy quake toll nears 250 as rescuers hunt for survivors
Volunteers join rescue services in Amatrice. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The death toll from a powerful earthquake in central Italy rose to 247 on Thursday amid fears many more corpses would be found in the rubble of devastated mountain villages.

Italy earthquake
Quake hit in one of Italy's most seismically-prone areas
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The deadly earthquake that struck central Italy before dawn on Wednesday occurred in a notorious seismic hotspot, and dangerous aftershocks are possible, scientists said.

Live: Italy earthquake death toll rises to 247
Residents of Amatrice survey the damage to their homes. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

At least 247 people have died after a powerful earthquake struck a remote area of central Italy on Wednesday, said Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, warning that the figure could still rise.

At least 120 dead in central Italy earthquake
Rescuers carry a man in Amatrice. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

A powerful earthquake that rocked central Italy on Wednesday left 120 people dead and the total is likely to rise, the country's civil protection unit said in the first official death toll.

Italy earthquake: What we know so far
Rescuers carry a man through the rubble of damaged homes. Photo: AFP

At least 247 are reported dead as rescuers work to save those trapped in the rubble.

A long history of deadly earthquakes in Italy
Photo taken on May 17th 1976 of a nun showing a church destroyed by the Friuli-Venezia earthquake. Photo: AFP

At least 73 people were killed after a powerful earthquake struck central Italy early on Wednesday.

'We only heard their cats': quake sorrow of Italian village
A victim of the quake in Illica desparately calls his relatives. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

Sitting with his brother on a bench in Illica, one of the Italian mountain villages devastated by a powerful earthquake on Wednesday, Guido Bordo clasps and unclasps his hands repeatedly.

IN PICS: Aftermath of deadly earthquake in Italy
A man from Amatrice. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

"Three quarters of the town isn't there anymore," said the mayor of Amatrice after a deadly quake hit overnight.

Migrant travels 400km clinging beneath lorry in Italy
The youngster was spotted travelling north on Italy's A1 motorway. Photo: Polizia di Stato

The refugee was exhausted from the effort of holding onto the truck by the time he was found.

Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
National
Why discontented Italians could derail their economy
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Society
Keep passports safe: Typical pickpocket scams revealed
Culture
Why coffee in Italy is a culture you must taste to understand
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Society
The richest families in Florence in 1427 are still rich today
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Culture
So why do pasta-loving Italians live such long lives?
National
Italy's Renzi prepares for stormy autumn
Society
This 104-year-old just saw the sea for the first time
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
National
Should Rome give up on its 2024 Olympic dream?
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Society
The Italian doctor giving hope to thousands of migrants
Culture
Ten 'Italian' dishes that don't actually exist in Italy
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Sport
Five Italian athletes going for gold at the Rio Olympics
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Travel
Trastevere: From a fiery past to Rome’s souvenir stand
Politics
Think Trump would be a disaster? Just ask the Italians
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
How Brexit has helped to expose Italy’s banking malaise
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Politics
After Brexit, keep a close eye on Italy's Five Star Movement
Lifestyle
12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Italy
National
Why Milan could be Europe's post-Brexit financial hub
Travel
Five crowd-free alternatives to Italy's tourist hotspots
National
Italian hotspots struggling with 'too many tourists'
Culture
Meet the Italian chef behind the world's best restaurant
2,507
jobs available