NIH Investigating U.S. Research Institutions’ Foreign Ties

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is taking several steps to ensure that NIH-funded laboratories are properly vetting and reporting their foreign ties. In a letter issued in August, the agency urged research institutions to curb “unacceptable breaches of trust and confidentiality.”

The NIH also announced that it is creating a new advisory group to amend agency procedures on information-sharing and reporting.

While accepting federal research funding does not prevent grantees from receiving foreign funding, recipients are required to inform the U.S. government of all sources of funding – a rule which has been irregularly followed and enforced.

The NIH’s actions reflect congressional members’ concerns that foreign-born scientists are taking advantage of NIH funding to benefit their home countries. NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, stated that the agency was not responding to a particular incident, “just a gathering sense that it’s time to take action.”

In one recent case, a doctoral student at Duke University allegedly returned to China with U.S. government–funded research, which he used to start a billion-dollar tech company. NIH also is investigating several researchers who may have hidden foreign ties from the U.S. government, possibly with the intention of sharing intellectual property with other nations.

Source: Science magazine, August 31, 2018.