Sweden: Surgeon found guilty of bodily harm in synthetic trachea transplant

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A Swedish court has found an Italian surgeon who once pioneered tracheal surgery guilty of assaulting a patient but acquitted him of the assault charge.

Paolo Macchiarini gained recognition in 2011 after claiming to have performed the world’s first synthetic tracheal transplant using stem cells while he was a surgeon at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm.

The experimental procedure was considered a breakthrough in regenerative medicine.

However, allegations soon surfaced that the procedure was being performed on at least one person who was not seriously ill at the time of the operation.

During the May trial in Solna District Court, prosecutors argued that the operation of three patients in Sweden constituted assault, or alternatively assault, due to negligence because Macchiarini disregarded “science and proven experience.” .

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The district court agreed with the prosecution, but granted Macchiarini two counts of indictment because the patients’ health was in such poor condition.

“Given the condition of the patients, the district court found that the procedures for the first two patients were reasonable,” it said in a statement.

However, in the case of the third patient, the court found him guilty of “causing bodily harm.”

“By the time of the third patient’s surgery, the experience of the first surgeries was such that the surgeon should have avoided any other patient undergoing the surgery,” the court said.

Macchiarini was given a suspended sentence, which in Sweden means the court will reassess his sentence if he commits another offense during his two-year suspended sentence.

Along with his colleagues, 63-year-old Macchiarini underwent a total of eight such transplants between 2011 and 2014 – three in Sweden and five in Russia in 2011 and 2012.

Three patients died in Sweden, although the deaths were not directly related to the surgery. According to Swedish media reports, four out of five Russian patients have also died.

Macchiarini himself insisted in court that transplantation was an option decided after all other options had been ruled out – what he called “Plan B”.

His lawyer, Björn Hertig, meanwhile, insisted that the operation was the result of “teamwork” and discussed it with other senior colleagues.

Following Thursday’s verdict, Hurtig said that while his client was to be acquitted of all charges, the court acquitted him of “substantial portions.”

“We won most of the cases,” he told the AFP news agency.

Meanwhile, chief prosecutor Jim Westerberg said his team did not expect the verdict. He said it was “to our surprise” that the court ruled that the patients’ serious health problems warranted the drastic measures.

Neither party has decided whether to appeal the court’s decision.

Macchiarini was also commissioned by the Swedish research body Karolinska Institute, which awards the Nobel Prize in Medicine. An external review in 2015 found Macchiarini guilty of research misconduct.

Although the institute fired him in 2016, he repeatedly defended him until 2018, when his own review found him and several other researchers guilty of scientific misconduct.

The university’s rector and several others resigned over the fraud.

In 2018, the medical journal Lancet retracted two of Machiarini’s articles.

In 2013, Karolinska Hospital suspended all tracheal transplants and refused to renew Macchiarini’s contract as a surgeon.

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