Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini was hailed for turning the dream of regenerative medicine into a reality – until he was exposed as a con artist and false prophet

Scientific pioneer, superstar surgeon, miracle worker – that’s how Paolo Macchiarini was known for several years. Dressed in a white lab coat or in surgical scrubs, with his broad, handsome face and easy charm, he certainly looked the part. And fooled almost everyone.

Macchiarini shot to prominence back in 2008, when he created a new airway for Claudia Castillo, a young woman from Barcelona. He did this by chemically stripping away the cells of a windpipe taken from a deceased donor; he then seeded the bare scaffold with stem cells taken from Castillo’s own bone marrow. Castillo was soon back home, chasing after her kids. According to Macchiarini and his colleagues, her artificial organ was well on the way to looking and functioning liked a natural one. And because it was built from Castillo’s own cells, she didn’t need to be on any risky immunosuppressant drugs.

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