A cancer research center in Texas fired three of its employees for allegedly stealing some of its research data for China.
Peter Pisters, president of Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center, said the National Institutes of Health had tipped them in 2018 about a potential conflict of interest involving five of its researchers who were receiving unreported income from abroad.
"As stewards of taxpayer dollars invested in biomedical research, we have an obligation to follow up," Pisters told the Houston Chronicle.
"This is part of a much larger issue the country is facing — trying to balance an open collaborative environment and at the same time protect proprietary information and commercial interests."
The NIH gave MD Anderson $148 million last year to help fund the facility's cancer research.
Stealing Cancer Research For China
The three dismissed researchers were reportedly of Chinese ethnicity. Two of the employees chose to resign even before they were terminated from the research center, while the third is currently challenging the firing.
As for the remaining two scientists mentioned in the NIH report, one of them is still under investigation, while the other averted termination after MD Anderson decided it was not necessary.
There are no reports so far of whether any of the former MD Anderson employees will be charged will federal cases or deported back to their country.
Christina Garza, a spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, refused to confirm nor deny any ongoing investigation regarding the dismissed scientists.
Evidence of the supposed intellectual property theft on behalf of the Chinese government are yet to be revealed to the public.
Allegations Of Racial Profiling
Meanwhile, several Chinese-American groups expressed their disappointment on the incident, claiming that it amounts to racial profiling.
Frank H Wu, president of the influential Committee of 100 in New York, said scientific research is dependent on the free flowing of ideas.
He explained that national interest of the United States is best advanced by welcoming different people, and not by subjecting them to racial stereotyping based on where they come from.
The Committee of 100 joined other similar organizations in a gathering in Washington, D.C. in December to raise their concern about the FBI's investigations involving Chinese Americans.
Chinese-American scientists wrote an open letter in Science earlier this year to protest the ongoing rhetoric and proposals by several government agencies, including the NIH and FBI, which they believe are unjustly targeting members of their community.
One of those who penned the letter was Mien-Chie Hung, a Taiwanese-born scientist and former vice president for basic research at MD Anderson.
Sources told the Houston Chronicle that the MD Anderson investigations affected more than just the five researchers mentioned in the report. It may have actually involved more than 20 employees, based on documents that revealed the FBI and the research center looked at the emails of 23 workers.
The newspaper said sources also alluded to the 10 senior researchers or staff members of Chinese descent who have either resigned, retired, or placed on administrative leave over the past 18 months.
These former employees were said to have left MD Anderson on their own accord, but there are speculations that they left because of the supposed toxic climate and racial profiling allegations going on in the research center.