NIH probe of foreign ties has led to undisclosed firings — and refunds from institutions

  • Since August 2018, NIH has sent approximately 180 letters to over 60 U.S. institutions about individual scientists believed to have broken NIH rules requiring full disclosure of all sources of research funding.
  • The result has included well-publicized dismissals of five researchers, all Asian Americans, at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, and Emory University in Atlanta.
  • There are also major U.S. research universities that have kept the cases of the faculty they fired confidential, according to Michael Lauer, head of NIH’s extramural research program.
  • Some universities also repaid NIH “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in grants because of rule violations according to Lauer.
  • Initially, many universities pushed back when informed of the investigations. Senior university leadership also sided with the faculty members believed to have undisclosed foreign ties. That is, until NIH provided evidence to the contrary.
  • Then leadership typically stated they were “surprised, shocked, and horrified when they learned about these arrangements.”
  • Lauer believes what NIH has uncovered will result in debarment of certain researchers. NIH has now referred at least 18 cases to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), for further investigation.
  • Lauer also predicts other federal agencies funding academic research may soon “follow our lead and start doing similar things.”