The worldwide acknowledged surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, researchers and medical doctor operating in Karolinska Institutet, was arrested in Italy this week. He has to respond to a number of charges, among which attempt of fraud and exaction. Police waited for him outside the operating theater in the Careggi Hospital (Florence – Italy) where the surgeon was working, and then escorted him at home, where is now forced to stay till future notice.
Prof. Macchiarini is the first scientist that successfully transplanted an artificial trachea in a patient without using immunosuppressive drugs and he’s considered a top-notch researcher in the field of regenerative medicine.
Macchiarini charges has been formulated by the judger Alessandro Moneti: “Macchiarini primarily follows his economical interests rather then the professional deontology”. The accuse believes Macchiarini has proposed to some patients to pay him “under-the-desk” to let them skip the queue for a transplant, breaking the rules of Careggi and the Italian low. The judger’s documentation formulates that Macchiarini took advantage of the fragile psychological situation of some patients for the benefit of his wallet.
“extreme measures” – The italian newspaper Corriere della Sera unwraps the chain of events that lead to the arrest: everything started from the exposure of the wife of one of Macchiarini’s patient, to whom the surgeon (seems to have) asked 150.000€ for directing the case to Hannover (Germany) where collaborators would have taken care of him. The fraud never worked, because the family of the patient had not such economical possibility, the wife said.
Same story with another patient to whom Macchiarini promised hospitalization into a privite structure in UK previous payment of 130.000€. Apparently the surgeon also misguided the patient, saying that the urgent operation could have been done exclusively in London, and it was not possible in Careggi hospital.
The defense lawyer Rosario Bevacqua said that Macchiarini is “very annoyed of having to suffer from such accusations, and he’s regretting of being back in Italy to work”. He adds that since the facts are old (2010) and the charges are just for attempted fraud, such extreme measurement (the arrest) could have been avoided.
Careggi Hospital is just waiting for justice to follow its path (which considering the country, it may take a while…). The hospital also states clearly that these facts are not questioning the value and the quality of Macchiarini research, published in the world most important medical journals.
Never ending divorce – The bad relationship between Macchiarini and Italy is nothing new: in 2008, the local health manager of Tuscany promised to the surgeon a professorship position in Florence that never arrived. He was also proposed to become the head of the European Center for Thoracic Research, which also never happened. Macchiarini will later complain in an interview to Corriere della Sera that this “impaired academia path” was because recommended people comes always before valid researchers.
Things didn’t get better between the surgeon and the Italian hospital when, in 2010, one of Macchiarini’s patients died due to an infection after an operation, and the doctor dropped to the Hospital the entire responsibility for what happened. This fact, along with another series of misunderstanding with Carreggi Hospital, made Macchiarini resign the same year. Shortly later, Karolinksa Institute stepped in and offered to the already world-applauded doctor an “invited professorship” position, and basically unlimited possibilities to grow his research in Stockholm.
But Macchiarini has one foot in each country: in February this year, Macchiarini accepted a new contract with Careggi for 310.000€/year to direct a newly formed European Institute of the High-Respiratory Track, where Macchiarini was given the mission to educate the new medical generation and to continue his research. According to this contract, Macchiarini had to spend at least 3 days a week in Carreggi. Quite a challenge to split between the opposite side of Europe, I must say, but I guess this is how it goes when you become the guru of respiratory track transplantation.
Karolinska reaction – today KI puts on its website a lapidary comment about the event:
The University Director of KI Bengt Norrving says that “At present, we have no reason at all to doubt [about] our colleague or the research he does here”. And concludes that the Institute is in “regular touch with him and is keeping a watchful eye on how the legal case against him unfolds”.
Driven justice? – Due to the uneasy time between Macchiarini and Careggi hospital, someone could easily envision that the surgeon may have stepped onto a number of doctors feet, and we know how sensitive some professionals are. Comments on the Corriere della Sera article about Macchiarini arrest say that this is just “driven justice” – something needed to get read of a troublesome colleague.
Funny enough, Macchiarini has been bitten by the Italian justice right when his case was hitting the media. Last month the New York Times pointed him as a protagonist of regenerative medicine. Few weeks ago, I attended a popular science lecture of Macchiarini in Karolinska that was broadcasted by the Swedish television, where he showed his great achievements in trachea transplantation and his new results (not yet published) of synthetics organs creation. This episode clearly shows that Karolinska is very proud of its surgeon: this month Macchiarini was also featured in the Institutet official magazine.
But the question remains: is it really possible that this excellent scientist have been arrested exclusively based on some potent colleague whim? I rather prefer keep a safe distance from conspiracy theories, which usually never lead to anything good.
Let’s wait to see what justice has to say.