The doctor who referred a cancer patient for the first-ever artificial trachea implant will not face disciplinary action from the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, where he works. Patient Andemariam Beyene died after the implant, a polymer scaffold seeded with his own stem cells, failed. The surgeon who developed the technique, Paolo Macchiarini, has been the center of a misconduct scandal that led to his firing from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and Kazan Federal University in Tatarstan, Russia. Although Macchiarini touted the success of his artificial windpipes in medical papers, all but one of the patients who received them have died. (The survivor was able to have his implant removed.)
In a 5 April statement, University of Iceland Rector Jón Atli Benediktsson said that Tómas Guðbjartsson, a thoracic surgeon at the Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik and a professor at the university, would not be disciplined for his role in the case, which was examined by an external ethics panel in 2017. The rector concluded that although Guðbjartsson’s conduct “is considered objectionable … the legal requirements for formal disciplinary sanctions … have not been met.” The statement says that the university also “regrets the flaws” in a 2012 symposium celebrating the first anniversary of the implant surgery.
Beyene, an Eritrean Ph.D. student in geology who was married and had three young sons, developed a tumor on his windpipe in 2009. Guðbjartsson, after concluding he had no other treatment options left, sent him to be seen by Macchiarini in Stockholm. The duo, with several other colleagues, gave Beyene an artificial windpipe in June 2011, in an operation written up in The New York Times. But the polymer trachea collapsed multiple times and caused recurring infections. Beyene died in January 2013. An autopsy found that the implant had almost completely disconnected from Beyene’s airway.