Dr. Ana Lasbrey serves as Dr. Paolo Macchiarini’s right-hand woman when the latter joins Karolinska Institutet (KI) in the second season of Peacock’s true crime series ‘Dr. Death.’ To accelerate the progress of her stem cell research, she joins Macchiarini’s team which implants biosynthetic tracheas in several patients. However, she starts to reconsider her decision to assist the surgeon after confronting the worsening condition of Andemariam Beyene. In reality, a surgeon named Ana didn’t work with Macchiarini at Karolinska. However, the character isn’t entirely fictional either. She can be seen as a combination of two doctors who still work in Sweden now!
The Two Whistleblowers
Dr. Ana Lasbrey can be seen as a combination of Karl-Henrik Grinnemo and Oscar Simonson, two surgeons who worked with Macchiarini at Karolinska and eventually exposed his scientific misconduct along with Matthias Corbascio. In the series, Ana gets starstruck upon seeing Macchiarini at Karolinska, which leads to her addition to the former’s research team in no time. In reality, Simonson is one of the first doctors who teamed up with Macchiarini at the medical institution. “I was the first of the whistleblowers to work with him [Macchiarini],” the surgeon told The Telegraph. Macchiarini’s presentation was captivating for Simonson and several other professors who worked at the prestigious medical institution at the time.
“He [Macchiarini] was extremely charming and had a lot of charisma. I remember his first presentation about his vision – he arrived in his Italian suit and scarf, and he talked very quietly so we all had to lean forward to hear, but he completely took over the room,” Simonson said in the same interview. However, Simonson is the surgeon who conducted the rat trachea implantations as part of Macchiarini’s research, which Dr. Anders Svensson does in the crime drama. Grinnemo is another surgeon who worked closely with Macchiarini at Karolinska. He assisted Macchiarini in Beyene’s organ transplant operation in 2011 as Ana does in the show.
In 2013, Grinnemo teamed up with Simonson and Corbascio to unravel the misconduct committed by Macchiarini. The group noticed not only that the patients who underwent transplant surgery under Macchiarini’s care suffered after the procedures but also that there weren’t any stem cell growths in or around the artificial tracheas implanted by the surgeon. They discovered that no animal studies were conducted before the transplant surgeries as well.
Grinnemo and Simonson Are Working Together
Karl-Henrik Grinnemo and Oscar Simonson left Karolinska Institutet after emerging as the whistleblowers who exposed Paolo Macchiarini. They are currently working together as surgeons in a reputed public research university in Sweden. After exposing Macchiarini, Grinnemo had to experience several challenges professionally. In April 2014, Macchiarini alleged that Grinnemo stole the former’s work for a grant application. A year later, Anders Hamsten, then-vice-chancellor of KI, ruled Grinnemo was guilty of “carelessness.” The ruling affected his research work severely.
“Because I had raised concerns about such a popular figure at KI, I had already been shut out of a lot of research networks at the institution. But the 2015 verdict made it worse,” Grinnemo said about the ruling. “Despite my publication record, I didn’t receive any new grants. No one wanted to collaborate with me. We were doing good research, but it didn’t matter. We were ‘marked’ by the vice-chancellor’s verdict. It was a terrible time. I thought I was going to lose my lab, my staff – everything. It’s been three tough years,” he added. In 2016, a new panel dived deep into the allegation and found what he had done was “usual practice” for the research group.
After the revised verdict, Grinnemo started to work for the Swedish Research Council to evaluate grants while focusing on his own research. In 2018, KI found seven researchers guilty of misconduct in the Macchiarini case, including Grinnemo. “[…] it is KI’s firm opinion that a whistleblower who has participated in a scientific study and also as author of a scientific article, despite reporting, cannot be freed from blame or absolved from responsibility,” Ole Petter Ottersen, President of Karolinska Institutet, stated in a press release. Simonson raised his concern regarding the verdict saying that it “sends the message that whistleblowers in research will be punished.” “That’s a serious problem for research,” he added.
Simonson continues to hold KI responsible and the institution eventually conceded that the whistleblowers “should have been taken seriously much earlier.” “They [the Karolinska] have not been punished enough: at a minimum, they should give the families of the patients who were killed reparations,” Simonson told The Telegraph in 2023. Grinnemo also works as a cardiothoracic surgeon at two teaching hospitals located in Solna and Uppsala. He reportedly resides in Greater Stockholm. Simonson’s work takes him to Uppsala, a city near Stockholm.