Neuroscientists at Emory University Terminated Following Scrutiny of Chinese Funding Ties

Paper with terminated stamped on it

Emory University in Georgia has fired a husband and wife neuroscience research team after they were accused of failing to disclose ties to China that included financial funding.

In addition to the termination of the two scientists, Time reported that four Chinese research students who were associated with the lab were told to leave the country within 30 days. The researchers, Li Xiao-Jiang and Li Shihua were researching Huntington disease. The couple has denied the allegations made against them and raised concern that the terminations were part of a greater conspiracy against Chinese students and faculty on the Atlanta campus, Time said.

Following the terminations, Emory said the terminated researchers were named as key personnel on grants from the National Institutes of Health and failed to “fully disclose foreign sources of research funding and the extent of their work for research institutions and universities in China,” Time reported. Citing an initial report from Science, Time added that Li said since 2012, he disclosed his Chinese research activity annually. Also, Li said the university did not explain why any of the researchers were fired, Time reported.

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This is not the first specter of racism that has arisen due to increased scrutiny of Chinese state connections with U.S. researchers. In April there were similar cries of racism raised following the ouster of three ethnically Chinese scientists at MD Anderson who were allegedly associated with espionage activities on behalf of the Chinese government. In addition to the three Chinese scientists who were fired, two other researchers, also Chinese, were also investigated regarding the allegations of espionage. MD Anderson was forced to go on the defensive regarding allegations of racism following the terminations.

Following the terminations of the Emory University researchers, the prestigious institute told Time that the examination of the activities of those scientists in question following concerns raised by the NIH and other federal agencies. Those same concerns regarding foreign influence on U.S.-based research. The terminations at MD Anderson were also prompted by concerns raised by the NIH and Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the security of intellectual property and the integrity of the peer review process for biomedical research.

A 2017 report issued by the FBI noted that that intellectual-property theft by China costs the U.S. as much as $600 billion annually. Last year, two Chinese scientists pled guilty to stealing intellectual property from GlaxoSmithKline. Those trade secrets were going to be part of the foundation for setting up a company in China called Renopharma.

Washington has been increasingly focused on Chinese investment in the United States, particularly in the areas involving intellectual property and biotech. Earlier this year, Congress almost unanimously passed an updated version of the review powers of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. But the law that sought to protect U.S. business interests has led to the termination of a number of deals with China-based companies. For example, in April, the White House ordered the Chinese majority owner of Massachusetts-based healthcare company PatientsLikeMe to sell his stake. In 2017,

Another company impacted by the CFIUS rules is Momenta Pharmaceuticals. Forbes said the company intended to spin out some of its business to a “syndicate of China-based investors” but that was halted by CFIUS.

The increased scrutiny of the Trump administration has caused a significant decline in Chinese investment in U.S. companies. Over the past two years, direct investment from China into U.S. companies has declined about 90 percent, CNBC reported in April.

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