Nobel prize panel demands resignation of judges over scandal

Italian stem cell scientist Dr Paolo Macchiarini. Photo / AP
Italian stem cell scientist Dr Paolo Macchiarini. Photo / AP

The panel that hands out the Nobel Prize for Medicine has demanded the resignation of two of its judges for allegedly mishandling a scandal over a disgraced Italian surgeon who specialised in stem cell therapy.

Anders Hamsten and Harriet Wallberg have been asked to resign for failing to heed warnings in their roles at Sweden's Karolinksa Institute of misconduct by Dr Paolo Macchiarini, who in the past has falsely claimed to be Pope Francis' personal doctor.

Earlier this year, the 57-year-old surgeon, once regarded as a brilliant pioneer in the field of windpipe transplants, was fired from his job at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm - home of the Nobel Prize for Medicine - after being accused of negligence, scientific fraud and falsifying his CV.

He is being investigated by prosecutors for involuntary manslaughter and gross criminal negligence in connection with two patients who died.

The scandal has already cost Hamsten his job as vice-chancellor of the prestigious Karolinska Insitute. Wallberg, who headed the institute when Macchiarini was hired, was fired from her current job as head of the Swedish Higher Education Authority yesterday.

They will have to resign from the 50-member panel before it awards the next Nobel Prize for Medicine in October.

Macchiarini was employed as a researcher into stem cell biology at the Karolinska Institute and a consultant at Karolinska University Hospital in 2010.

But he lost his job in March after a documentary by Swedish broadcaster SVT alleged that he had used his patients as guinea pigs for untested techniques that involved the transplant of tracheas coated with stem cells. Out of eight patients who received the synthetic windpipe transplants, six died.

A spokesman for the institute said at the time: "He has acted in a way that has had very tragic consequences for the people affected and their families."

Macchiarini denies any wrongdoing. In March he said he "did not accept of the findings" of the institute's disciplinary board and vowed to "take immediate steps to restore my reputation."

"Scandal is the right word," said Helene Hellmark Knutsson, the Higher Education Minister. "People have been harmed because of the actions of the Karolinska Institute and also the Karolinska University Hospital."

Bo Risberg, a former head of the ethics committee at the institute, has called for the Nobel Prize for Medicine to be shelved for the next two years and for the prize money to be used to compensate the relatives of the patients that Macchiarini operated on.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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