Emory fires two NIH-funded faculty members for not disclosing foreign sources of funding and work in China

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Emory fires two NIH-funded faculty members for not disclosing foreign sources of funding and work in China

By Claire Dietz

Emory University has terminated two NIH-funded faculty members at the Department of Genetics for failing to disclose foreign sources of funding and the extent of their involvement with institutions in People’s Republic of China.

“Since this is a personnel matter, we cannot share specific details; however, through the course of an investigation prompted by an NIH inquiry, Emory determined that these faculty members had failed to fully disclose foreign sources of research funding and the extent of their work for research institutions and universities in China,” Vikas P. Sukhatme, dean of Emory University School of Medicine, said in a memo to the faculty and staff. “Please note we are working to minimize disruption within the department and taking steps to ensure research projects continue.”

According to Science, the two researchers are disputing their termination. The journal reported “neuroscientist Li Xiao-Jiang says the university dismissed him and neuroscientist Li Shihua, his wife and lab co-leader, ‘simultaneously without any notice or opportunity for us to respond to unverified accusations.’”

In April, three faculty members at MD Anderson Cancer Center were sanctioned for failure to ensure confidentiality of review of NIH grants (The Cancer Letter,April 26). These scientists had also failed to disclose outside funding, academic appointments, and roles in laboratories outside the U.S.


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The MD Anderson cases included:

  • Unauthorized sharing of confidential material and failure to disclose affiliations in People’s Republic of China;

  • Failure to disclose personal relationships with PIs and academic appointments in People’s Republic of China;

  • Emailing an NIH grant application to a scientist based in the People’s Republic of China.

The Senate Committee on Finance June 5 held a hearing focused on foreign threats to taxpayer-funded research. The hearing examined the actions several departments of the federal government—including HHS and NIH—have taken in response to the recent uptick in reports of researchers failing to disclose funding and academic appointments outside the U.S. (The Cancer Letter, April 26).

A webcast of the committee hearing can be found here.

“Truly free collaboration and exchange of information is only possible when data and sources are credible, and the research process can be trusted,” Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said in a statement. “That trust is destroyed when foreign governments and other entities interfere in our research for their gain and to our detriment.”

In his testimony, Joe W. Gray, the Gordon Moore Chair of Biomedical Engineering and associate director for Biophysical Oncology in the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, cautioned against “stifling innovation whenever we constrain interactions.

“It has been my experience that the way people approach problems is colored strongly by their past experiences and by the nature of their education,” Gray said in submitted testimony. “It is also my experience that individuals educated in other countries bring different ways of thinking and different facts.

“Further, these individuals undergo extensive vetting to ensure a high level of education and potential. Thus, I believe that innovative solutions to the complex problems we are trying to solve throughout the biomedical community today will occur most rapidly through the free and open exchange of information and ideas, including with a broad range of foreign nationals.”

The controls on data sharing that are now in place do protect against most forms of data misuse may also have a negative impact on innovation, Gray said.

“The economic strength of the U.S. depends on innovation and on the speedy implementation and commercialization of innovative ideas,” Gray said. “I believe that the controls that are already in place provide a workable balance between protecting data and intellectual property and allowing the free exchange of data and information needed for effective innovation.”

Grassley singled out China as a particular threat. Some of the threats to research include, “spying, theft of intellectual property, [and] disclosure of confidential information,” he said.

“We are aware that a few foreign governments have initiated systematic programs to capitalize on the collaborative nature of biomedical research and unduly influence U.S.-based researchers,” Lawrence A. Tabak, NIH principal deputy director, said in submitted testimony. “It is essential for us to continue vigilance and take additional actions to protect the integrity of the U.S. biomedical research enterprise, while also protecting important relationships with foreign scientists worldwide.”

Tabak said NIH has taken the following measures have been taken to identify and monitor these problems:

  • Partnering with colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services and the FBI to exchange information on emerging threats;

  • Developing a new dashboard to assist NIH in responding to data requests needed for its reviews in this context;

  • Maintaining an open channel of communication with funded research institutions and investigators;

  • Training NIH staff to identify and report suspicious activity on the part of key scientists designated in grant applications as well as peer reviewers.

According to Tabak, actions awardee institutions have taken to mitigate concerns include:

  • Terminating or suspending scientists;

  • Intervening to address previously unreported affiliations with foreign institutions;

  • Relinquishing or refunding of NIH funds;

  • Prohibiting certain individuals from serving as investigators on NIH grants;

  • Raising awareness among institutional faculty about government and institutional policies dealing with foreign affiliations and relationships.

“We have evaluations underway to assess NIH’s vetting and oversight of its peer reviewers, including its efforts to prevent or identify inappropriate disclosure of information by peer reviewers, and an evaluation of how NIH monitors the financial conflicts of interest, including foreign financial interests, reported by grantee institutions,” Leslie W. Hollie, chief of investigative operations in the HHS Office of Inspector General, said in submitted testimony.

The largest number of ongoing cases regarding transmission of technical data involve China, Russia, and Iran, Louis A. Rodi, acting assistant director of the National Security Investigations Division of Homeland Security Investigations, said in submitted testimony.

“Exploitation of academia and U.S. research institutions is just one of the schemes these countries are employing to obtain access to sensitive research and export-controlled information and technology, and to facilitate its transfer abroad,” Rodi said. “These countries are attempting to obtain this information, in many instances in an illegal or subversive manner, in order to advance their own military capabilities or economic goals, many times in contravention to the national security of the U.S.”


「憂外國勢力介入」 愛默蕾大學開除華裔學者 限期遣返

(World Journal) 記者林昱瑄


任教於愛默蕾大學(Emory University)的華裔遺傳學者李曉江與李世華,在該校收到國家衛生研究院(NIH)表達對外國勢力介入研究的疑慮後,22日遭到解雇,實驗室遭關閉,實驗室內多位中國學者並被要求30天內強制遣返。







「2012年起,我每年都會向愛默蕾大學披露我在中國的研究活動。」 李曉江說,「自2018年11月初以來,我在中國進行科研活動的調研期間,一直在提供愛默蕾大學要求我提供的文件」。



●夫婦皆美國公民 研究杭廷頓舞蹈症

李曉江與李世華均為美國公民,在愛默蕾大學工作了23年。他們以利用小鼠和豬模型研究杭廷頓舞蹈症而聞名,曾參與利用CRISPR基因編輯技術來繁育豬隻及猴子,用以研究人類疾病。2018年3月,兩人也在「細胞」(Cell)期刊發表的,針對創造基因改造豬隻以用於研究杭廷頓舞蹈症(Huntington disease)的論文中列名為共同作者。

亞特蘭大憲法報(AJC)指出,此案是繼上月休士頓的安德森癌症研究中心(the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center)解雇三名中國資深研究員後的第二起類似案件。



Li Xiao-Jiang (left) and Li Shihua (right).


Terminated Emory researcher disputes university’s allegations about China ties

By Jon Cohen

A researcher terminated by Emory University for allegedly not disclosing funding and ties to institutions in China is forcefully disputing the charges. And neuroscientist Li Xiao-Jiang says the Atlanta-based university dismissed him and neuroscientist Li Shihua, his wife and lab co-leader, “simultaneously without any notice or opportunity for us to respond to unverified accusations.”

The two researchers, known for their studies of Huntington disease in mouse and pig models, both are U.S. citizens and have worked at Emory for 23 years. Li Xiao-Jiang says he was traveling in China on 16 May when both researchers were informed they had been terminated. The university has also closed their joint laboratory, which is part of the medical school, and their websites are no longer accessible. Four postdoctoral students working in the lab, who are Chinese nationals, have been told to leave the United States within 30 days, he told ScienceInsider today. None, he says, were given reasons for their terminations.

“I was shocked that Emory University would terminate a tenured professor in such an unusual and abrupt fashion and close our combined lab consisting of a number of graduates and postdoctoral trainees without giving me specific details for the reasons behind my termination,” he said in a statement.

Emory has said its action came after an internal investigation prompted by a letter from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. For at least the past 8 months, NIH has been contacting U.S. universities with concerns about whether specific grantees have adhered to agency rules regarding the disclosure of foreign funding and affiliations. Earlier this year, NIH told Congress that it had identified at least 190 NIH grantees with potentially problematic foreign relationships, and that at least 55 institutions have begun investigations as a result of its inquiries.

Li Xiao-Jiang disputed Emory’s claim, made in a university statement yesterday, that the two researchers “had failed to fully disclose foreign sources of research funding and the extent of their work for research institutions and universities in China.” (Papers they have published in many high-profile journals, as well as biographical information posted online, have disclosed funding and affiliations with Chinese institutions.)

An Emory spokesperson told ScienceInsider today that it would not provide any more information other than what is in its statement.

“I have disclosed my Chin
ese research activity to Emory University each year since 2012,” Li Xiao-Jiang said. “I have provided documents requested by Emory University during the investigation of my research activity in China since early November 2018.” He also stated that he has not received “any copy of investigation that was sent to NIH by Emory, though I have requested Emory to give it to me.”

Li Xiao-Jiang declined to provide more specific information about the charges against him and his wife. But he said the termination came after Emory officials recently inspected material in his university email account. “I do not know what triggered Emory University’s examination of my emails in May 2019, which led to terminating my wife Dr. Shihua Li and me simultaneously without any notice or opportunity for us to respond to unverified accusations,” he stated. But he believes Emory’s action is related to “unverified information” in those emails, including unsigned or incomplete contracts, grant proposals, draft patents, and discussions about establishing biotechnology companies.

Li Xiao-Jiang said he is concerned about his lab workers, especially one who is pregnant and due to give birth in the next few weeks. He is also worried about the fate of his lab’s 500 cages of research mice, which include many unique models that his group created with NIH funding. The Lis currently have six NIH grants.

On 17 March, the Lis and seven other Emory faculty members of Chinese origin wrote a letter to Emory President Claire Sterk applauding “the courage and commitment” of the president of the University of California, Berkeley, and the provost of Stanford University for publicly reaffirming their support “for all faculty regardless of country of origin, and international collaborations despite the current polarized political climate.”

The researchers noted that “disturbing views and activities” at those schools “also exist on the Emory campus, which negatively derides Emory faculty members and international visitors, especially those of Chinese origin.” They asked Sterk to similarly support them. “[W]e feel that a statement is urgently needed to recognize the contributions of Emory’s diverse global community, and the enumerable benefit to science, research and education locally and globally.”

Sterk’s chief of staff, Daniel Gordon, replied 2 days later, saying that “a statement is already in the works,” which the university planned to issue “in the near future.” (No statement has yet been issued.) Gordon concluded: “Thank you for your thoughtful email, and for being such an important part of the Emory Family.”

Correction: This story initially reported that eight Chinese nationals in Li’s lab were asked to leave, but one of the fired has a green card and several others have not yet officially been terminated.


The entrance to Emory University in Atlanta.


Emory ousts two Chinese-American researchers after investigation into foreign ties

By David Malakoff

Emory University has ousted two veteran biomedical researchers and shuttered their laboratory after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) expressed concern about their foreign ties. The researchers “had failed to fully disclose foreign sources of research funding and the extent of their work for research institutions and universities in China,” the Atlanta-based university said in a statement first reported today by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Emory has not identified the researchers, but according to a story posted on (in Chinese), they are geneticists Li Xiao-Jiang and Li Shihua. The two researchers, who are married to each other, are Chinese-Americans who have both worked at Emory for more than 2 decades, according to biographical information posted online. They have been involved in efforts to use CRISPR gene editing to create engineered pigs and monkeys used to study human diseases. NIH Director Francis Collins highlighted their work in a June 2017 blog posting. In March 2018, the pair were co-authors of a paper in Cell that described the creation of a genetically modified pig that could be used to study Huntington disease and received press attention.

The move marks the second publicly known case in which an institution has moved to sever ties with NIH-funded researchers because of the funding agency’s concerns about undisclosed foreign sources of support for their work. Last month, Science and the Houston Chronicle revealed that the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, ousted three senior researchers after receiving letters from the Bethesda, Maryland-based NIH declaring that the scientists had committed potentially “serious” violations of agency rules involving confidentiality of peer review and the disclosure of foreign ties. Those researchers are among five MD Anderson scientists that NIH cited in its letters to the Texas cancer center.

Those letters are part of a sweeping NIH effort, launched in August 2018, to address growing U.S. government fears that foreign nations, particularly China, are taking unfair advantage of federally funded research. NIH has said at least 55 institutions have conducted investigations in response to its inquiries, which identify individuals with NIH funding.

The Emory statement said: “A letter that the NIH sent to many academic research universities” prompted it to begin “an internal investigation.” The institution shared the results of that investigation with NIH, it said, “and the faculty members are no longer employed at Emory.”

“It is important to note that Emory remains committed to the free exchange of ideas and research and to our vital collaborations with researchers from around the world,” the university said. “At the same time, Emory also takes very seriously its obligation to be a good steward of federal research dollars and to ensure compliance with all funding disclosure and other requirements.” An Emory spokesperson said today the university “is taking steps to ensure NIH research projects continue."

It is not clear when the two researchers left Emory or shut down their laboratory, which had sizeable funding from NIH. Emory web pages related to the two researchers are no longer accessible. A number of their papers note associations with or funding from Chinese institutions.



【记者陈琳5月20日休斯敦报道】自上周末开始,有消息称埃默里大学(Emory University)华裔终身教授李晓江的实验室(Li Lab)突然被关闭,发消息的人称“所有人上交了卡,门禁、邮箱停止使用”。记者试图联系该校人力资源和李晓江所供职的医学院(School of Medicine),均未得到回复。目前,该校网页上有关李晓江的页面已经全部无法浏览。

著名华人生物学家李晓江 (中国科学院大学网站截图)

李晓江是著名华人生物学家,他的主要成就在于研究遗传性神经疾病的模式与机理。他于2015年制备出了世界首例帕金森病的转基因猴模型 ;2018年,他和中国科学院广州生物医药与健康研究院研究员赖良学合作,首次利用基因编辑技术和体细胞核移植技术,成功培育出世界首例亨廷顿舞蹈症基因敲入猪。这头猪能精准模拟出人类神经退行性疾病,为治疗亨廷顿舞蹈症、阿兹海默病等疾病打开了希望之门。国际顶级期刊《细胞》(Cell)刊发这项成果后,引起国内外广泛轰动。


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李晓江与妻子李世华在埃默里大学网站上的信息均已无法打开 (埃默里大学官网截图)




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上述文件称作视同出口许可证(deemed-export license)。报导引述知情人士透露,过去美国政府核发这类许可证只需数周,如今等候时间常拖到6至8个月,导致业者眼睁睁看着属意的人才跑走。


曾在前总统欧巴马政府担任商务部工业与安全局(BIS)高层官员的律师沃尔夫(Kevin Wolf)表示,视同出口许可证核发速度改变,可能反映政治情势变化,但科技变迁也可能产生影响。如果涉及高度敏感技术的申请案增加,核准时间可能跟着拉长。


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