At the MD Anderson Cancer Center, a number of senior researchers were found violating the rules of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Three researchers have already been terminated for disclosing confidential information and withholding information involving their foreign connections.
This case was part of an effort the NIH launched in order to address the U.S. government’s concern in foreign nations attempting to gain insight into intellectual property and take unfair advantage of federally funded research. This investigation has promoted over 55 institution investigations, but the MD Anderson case was the first to have led to inquires serious enough to evoke termination. While three of the scientists at MD Anderson were terminated, one is still under investigation, and a fifth is free of termination.
MD Anderson Cancer Center was given $148 million in NIH funding in the year 2018 in order to support their research. The center must adhere to all NIH rules in order to maintain funding.
The accused researchers were said to be violating a number of NIH terms. The cancer center was sent five letters from the NIH with specific details about the allegations for each researcher. The letters started arriving in August of 2018. The recipients were given 30 days to report back on each of these letters.
One letter indicated that a researcher sent an email to a scientist in China, including an NIH grant application marked as containing “proprietary/privileged information,”. This was said to have violated peer-review confidentiality.
Another of these letters stated that a researcher had shared at least eight NIH applications, with very detailed information, with their daughter.
There were also allegations of several researchers having some form of foreign ties and links to research support programs in China. Three of the five letters mentioned researchers’ involvement in China’s Thousand Talents Program, a 2008 effort that establishes ties with ethnically Chinese scientists working outside of China by offering funding, salary, and other research support.
A few days before, letters were sent to over 100,000 institutions reminding them of NIH regulations and warning them of foreign attempts to steal intellectual property.
The NIH representatives said that the FBI was involved. Internal documents show proof that since 2017 the FBI has received permission to obtain information from MD Anderson. This includes email accounts and interviews with faculty.
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