Emory University in Atlanta has ousted two veteran biomedical researchers and shuttered their laboratory after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, 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 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 uschinapress.com (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. Both are U.S. citizens. 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 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.