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Time to retract Lancet paper on tissue engineered trachea transplants

  1. Leonid Schneider, independent science journalist1,
  2. Patricia Murray, professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine2,
  3. Raphaël Lévy, professor of physics3,
  4. Peter Wilmshurst, consultant cardiologist4
  1. 1For Better Science, 63526 Erlensee, Germany
  2. 2Department of Molecular Physiology and Cell Signalling, Institute of Systems, Molecular and Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
  3. 3Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, INSERM, LVTS, F-75018 Paris, France
  4. 4Royal Stoke University Hospital, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
  1. peter.wilmshurst{at}doctors.org.uk

We call for retraction of the 2008 Lancet article on “clinical transplantation of a tissue-engineered airway” by Macchiarini and colleagues.1 The paper received international media coverage as the “world’s first tissue engineered organ transplant,” and one of the authors, Martin Birchall, told the BBC that “in 20 years’ time, virtually any transplant organ could be made in this way.”2 Reality did not match the hype because nearly all subsequent patients who received “tissue engineered airways” died.3 The Lancet was informed in May 2018 that the key findings of the article were false. Despite this, and subsequent demands for retraction of the paper by us and others, the Lancet has refused to retract, without providing any explanation.

The 2008 article reports that a human cadaveric trachea was decellularised and colonised with “stem cells” from the recipient. The graft replaced a stenosed left main bronchus. Two sentences summarised the claims: “The graft immediately provided the recipient with a functional airway, improved her quality of life, and had a normal appearance and mechanical properties at 4 months. The patient had no anti-donor antibodies and was not on immunosuppressive drugs.”1

On 23 July 2018, in response to emails from one of us (PM), Antoni Castells, the newly appointed medical director of the Hospital Clinic Barcelona, where the operation was performed, wrote that in May …

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