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UCL scientists accused of covering up two deaths in order to secure money for further research

It is alleged the cover-up occurred to secure £4.7 million in government funding


UCL have launched an independent investigation, following allegations that researchers working on an innovative stem cell treatment for those with failing windpipes covered up the deaths of two of the four British patients to have undergone the treatment so far.

Keziah Shorten, 20, and 15-year-old Shauna Davison were both offered the experimental treatment under "compassionate use" regulations, meaning doctors could offer them as yet unapproved procedures for life-threatening illnesses that have no known cure.

Keziah Shorten underwent the larynx transplant in 2010, but the trachea collapsed shortly afterwards and left her in intensive care for six months. She then had a plastic trachea inserted, but died four months later.

The Telegraph report Shauna Davison and her family were not informed of Keziah's treatment-related death when they opted for the surgery in 2012. She died just 13 days after the operation. Despite this, her case has been referred to as a success in patient brochures for both of the planned multimillion pound UK trials – these claim that her death was due to "an unrelated problem" and "unknown causes".

In the application for £4.7 million government funding for these trials, Keziah's case is completely omitted and they refer to Shauna's procedure as a "succesful" operation, claiming she had a “healthy and vascular" graft. This money has since been withdrawn. Since a further £6 million European Union funded trial depends upon the outcome of the British tests, it looks unlikely that this will go ahead either.

A spokesperson for UCL has said: "Any research undertaken at UCL is required to conform to the highest legal, ethical and regulatory standards, and we will not hesitate take the necessary action, if and when this falls short." The General Medical Council have confirmed that they are also reviewing the available information.

In a statement, UCL said: "UCL has held an independent special inquiry into regenerative medicine research at UCL which was published in full in September 2017.

"The panel, chaired by Professor Stephen Wigmore from the University of Edinburgh, carried out a thorough investigation of the involvement of UCL and its personnel in regenerative medicine research but with particular focus on the field of tracheal and large airway tissue engineering. The inquiry made a series of recommendations and UCL is acting upon all of them.

"None of the recipients of the grafts were enrolled in UCL trials. All the individuals were treated under compassionate use procedures operated by the relevant hospitals."

"As a world-leading university, UCL takes the integrity of its research very seriously, and we are always seeking to improve our processes and raise our standards. Any research undertaken at UCL is required to conform to the highest legal, ethical and regulatory standards, and we will not hesitate take the necessary action, if and when this falls short.

"We are committed to supporting our staff as they continue a wide range of excellent research into regenerative medicine, which has tremendous potential to improve patient outcomes with proper support and governance.

"Many of our scientists are leading ground-breaking projects, helping develop new cancer therapies, using artificial intelligence to better predict diseases and innovating new surgical techniques, all of which is transforming the lives of millions of people around the world.

"Finally, we want to take this opportunity to offer our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of patients who died."