Stem cell researcher cleared of misconduct after U-turn

Paolo Macchiarini

A stem cell researcher who was accused by colleagues of making up data has been cleared of scientific misconduct. The decision is a boost for Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, a stem cell researcher who went from being featured on the front page of the New York Times to fending off accusations of misconduct.

The allegations relate to work Macchiarini did on the transplants of artificial windpipes at Sweden's Karolinska Institute. In May, an independent investigation concluded Macchiarini was guilty of scientific misconduct, in part because he reported a patient's condition after five months even though the person was allegedly never investigated at that point in time. Macchiarini fired back against his accusers with a 23-page defense, the contents of which have persuaded the Karolinska Institute to drop the charge of scientific misconduct.

Certain issues remain, though. The latest report, while clearing the doctor of scientific misconduct, found he fell short of quality standards in some areas and as such it may be appropriate for him to submit corrections. Other accusations, notably about the possession--or lack of--required permits and ethical clearances, are still being probed in a separate inquiry. Karolinska Institute also identified ways in which it can improve. "The line between clinical application and research when it comes to experimental therapy will need to be better defined," the report found.

Even with these lingering questions, Macchiarini is chalking the case up as a victory. "Justice has finally been done. To have been falsely accused of such serious misconduct is every researcher's nightmare. I am very keen that this case prompts a discussion of how such events can be avoided," Macchiarini told the New York Times. Macchiarini said the case has been "extremely damaging" to the "whole field of regenerative medicine," an area of research that has been dogged by concerns of malpractice and ethical failings throughout its short history.

Hwang Woo-suk, once viewed as a stem cell pioneer, was given a two-year suspended prison sentence in 2009 for embezzlement. Regenerative medicine has continued to edge its way toward the healthcare mainstream despite such scandals, but they do little for the reputation of the emerging field.

- read the NYT article (sub. req.)
- here's the AP's take
- and RetractionWatch's summary