'Unethical' anaesthetics research is retracted

Image caption Colloids are used during surgery

The editors of 16 medical journals have retracted "unethical" studies by an influential German anaesthetist.

Joachim Boldt carried out research into colloids, drugs used in surgery to boost fluid levels in the body.

But he did not get the necessary approval for 89 studies. He has been suspended, and is now being investigated for research fraud.

However, a UK expert said patients should not worry, as the work was not fundamental to how colloids are used.

Dr Boldt worked as chief anaesthetist at the Klinikum Ludwigshafen hospital in Rhineland.

In an open letter, published this week, the editors of the journals, including Anaesthesia and the British Journal of Anaesthesia, said 89 of 102 studies published by him were not found to have approval from an institutional review board (IRB) in Germany.

The retraction of the articles "means the research was unethical, and that IRB approval for the research was misrepresented in the published article," the letter said.

But it added: "It does not mean the research results per se are fraudulent."

The hospital where Dr Boldt worked is now checking the research against patient and laboratory records.

Any findings of "data fabrication, falsification, or misrepresentation" will then be communicated to readers, the letter said.

Eleven of the articles were published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia.

The journal's editor, Professor Charles Reilly, said all 11 of Dr Boldt's studies published in the BJA claimed to have ethics approval but that later emerged not to be true.

Patient safety

Dr Boldt's work was used to inform British guidelines on intravenous fluid use.

References to his work are being removed.

But Dr Rupert Pearse, senior lecturer and consultant in intensive care medicine at Barts &The London Medical School, who helped put together the guidelines, said the general message about the use of colloids - including the risks and benefits to be considered for individual patients - would not change.

He added: "The most important point is that there are no immediate safety concerns for patients because these studies are small and they are not fundamental to how doctors use intravenous fluid in clinical practice."

He told the BBC that Dr Boldt's findings were in line with the work of other researchers which was not being questioned, so the approach to using colloids would remain the same.

But he added: "The wider issue is research fraud, which is rare but very serious.

"It's vital that we maintain patient safety and public confidence.

"And as doctors, we must continue our efforts to ensure the integrity of our research."

It was not possible to contact Dr Boldt.

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