Copenhagen, Denmark ( Associated Press) — Swedish prosecutors on Wednesday appealed the sentence handed down to an Italian surgeon who was on trial for causing bodily harm during the death of three patients during an experimental stem-cell windpipe transplant.
Stem-cell scientist Dr. Paolo Macchiarini made headlines in 2011 for carrying out the world’s first stem-cell windpipe transplant at a major hospital in Sweden. Once considered a leading figure in regenerative medicine, Macchiarini is credited with creating the world’s first windpipe, which was partially made from a patient’s own stem cells.
Macchiarini was fired from the Karolinska Institutet in March 2016 for medical ethics violations, accusing him of misrepresenting his resume and his work. In December 2018, Sweden decided to reopen investigations already closed in three cases.
He was accused of inappropriately operating three people between 2011 and 2014 who later died, but Macchiarini was not accused of killing patients. He denied any criminal wrongdoing.
On 16 June, the Solna District Court acquitted him of two charges of assault and gave him a suspended sentence in the third case. Had the court complied with the prosecutor’s request, he would have been sentenced to five years in prison.
“In all cases, the interventions were contrary to science and best practice,” Chief Prosecutor Mikel Björk said in a statement Wednesday announcing the appeal to the Sway Court of Appeals. “It seems clear to me that these are completely unlawful human experiments and, given the nature of the crime and the high penal value, the punishment should be a long prison sentence.”
When Macchiarini’s first windpipe transplant was reported in 2008 in the medical journal Lancet, it was seen as a breakthrough in regenerative medicine. Macchiarini’s new airway – created partly using a patient’s stem cells – was thought to herald a new era where new organs could be made in the laboratory.
Macchiarini’s work, despite an independent Swedish commission, disputed the allegations saying they were false.
He provided artificial windpipes to 20 patients from countries including Spain, Russian, Iceland, Britain and the United States.
Critics say Macchiarini shied away from medical ethics to perform dangerous procedures for no proven benefit, and that he coined the description of his patients’ conditions.
In 2019, an Italian court sentenced Macchiarini to 16 months in prison for forged documents and abuse of office.