ABC’s new true-crime documentary series, ‘The Con,’ unravels the web of lies and deceits of those who fooled unsuspecting individuals by claims of promises that proved too good to be true. With Whoopi Goldberg as the narrator, the series explores the cost of the victims’ blind trust, both emotional and financial, and how it turned out to be unfathomable and tragic.
In each case, we hear from key people involved, including the victims, eyewitnesses, the law enforcement officials, and sometimes even the con artists themselves. Paolo Macchiarini, a thoracic surgeon and a former researcher on regenerative medicine, who later became known for fraud and manipulation, is the focus of the very first episode. Curious to know where he is now? We have got your back!
Who Is Paolo Macchiarini?
Born on August 22, 1958, Paolo Macchiarini is a Swiss-born Italian who obtained his medical degree at the Medical School of the University of Pisa, Italy, in 1986. He also earned his Master of Surgery from there in 1991. Then, by taking courses on statistics in clinical research and doing a master’s in organ and tissue transplantation, along with a doctorate on the same, Paolo started turning his dream of regenerative medicine into reality.
He shot to fame in 2008 after successfully creating a new airway for a young woman from Barcelona by chemically stripping away the cells of a windpipe taken from a deceased donor and adding the recipients’ own bone marrow cells to it. The artificial organ apparently functioned as well as a natural one, so countless news stories declared Paolo to be a phenomenon in the field of thoracic and vascular surgery. By 2011, Paolo was working at one of the world’s most prestigious medical universities, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden – whose professors select the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
As a visiting professor conducting basic research in the field of regenerative medicine or stem cell biology, Paolo reinvented his technique there. Instead of stripping the cells from the donor’s windpipes, Paolo decided that using plastic scaffolds made to each patient’s needs were a better idea. And so, for a couple of years, that’s the path he took while operating. In 2012, though, one of Paolo’s patients passed away. The Karolinska University Hospital decided to stop all future operations in this field and didn’t extend Paolo Macchiarini’s contract.
However, he was allowed to perform such clinical studies in Russia. It was only in June of 2014 that Paolo was suspected of misconduct in research after another one of his patients died. In the months that followed, four doctors at Karolinska University Hospital filed two more misconduct reports. They claimed that in seven of Paolo Macchiarini’s scientific papers, his research results had been reported in an overly positive manner.
The doctors argued that the reports incorrectly described the post-operative status of the patients and the functionality of the implants. Three of these doctors were the co-authors on some of the papers. What ensued after that was Paolo’s response to the first report, denying all the allegations against him and Karolinska Institute requesting an external opinion in the case relating to the second and third complaints against him.
Where Is Paolo Macchiarini Now?
By that time, Paolo Macchiarini was a world-renowned surgeon, with NBC News doing a story on him, titled ‘A Leap of Faith,’ which spotlighted his work in the area of organ transplantation, and clients/friends including Pope Francis, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Nicolas Sarkozy, and other world leaders. On May 13, 2015, Karolinska Institute’s external research party concluded that Paolo was, in fact, guilty of misconduct in research. But he refuted all the charges against him, leaving the Swedish Research Council no choice but to stop the funding.
Somehow, though, in the months that followed, Karolinska Institute cleared his name and appointed him as a temporary researcher for another year. In January 2016, Paolo was accused of some new serious crimes. The first came from Vanity Fair, where they published a story on him and his personal life, accusing him of being a manipulator and lying on his CV and elsewhere. A three-part documentary series ‘The Experiment’ broadcasts how almost all of his patients suffered horribly and died, due to complications related to the artificial tracheas, raising concerns about post-operative care and research ethics.
With all this, the misconduct investigations resumed, and Paolo was dismissed from the institution. In 2019, Paolo was sentenced to 16 months in jail by an Italian court for forging documents and abuse of office. In September 2020, he was indicted on charges of aggravated assault in Sweden, stemming from the transplants he carried out in 2011. Therefore, Paolo Macchiarini is currently behind bars for his lies that cost at least eight people to lose their lives. (Featured Image Credit: ABC News / The Con)
Read More: Who Were Paolo Macchiarini’s Victims?