An American researcher admits to stealing scientific trade secrets from a children’s hospital and selling them to China
China has long been accused of using money power and exploiting greed of gullible researchers to steal important scientific research. Earlier in 2004, China’s Huawei was blamed for using similar tactics to steal Nortel Canada’s telecom tech and bring about its downfall. Last week, the U.S. had accused China of hacking into US biotech firm Moderna for stealing COVID-19 vaccine research.
Some part of the above is true. An American researcher from Ohio has pleaded guilty of stealing scientific data and selling it to China. According to the documents filed by the Department of Justice, former Ohio resident Li Chen pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal scientific trade secrets and conspiring to commit wire fraud concerning the research, identification, and treatment of a range of pediatric medical conditions.
Chen and her husband, Yu Zhou, used their workplace access to steal scientific data from the Children’s Hospital’s Research Institute and sell it to China. Both husband and wife stole data from the research unit for 10 long years before being caught.
Both Chen and her husband worked in separate research labs affiliated with the Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Their designations gave them unrestricted access to the nationwide database of Research Institute and the couple used this access to steal important scientific data for 10 years. In 2019, the law finally caught up with them and the couple was arrested in California. The DoJ suspected the couple stole at least five trade secrets related to research on the cellular components known as exosomes and sold it to China. DoJ alleges that Chen not only stole and sold the exosomes data to China but also monetized the stolen data by setting up a company in China to sell exosome “isolation kits.”
Exosomes are a type of extracellular vesicle that contain constituents (protein, DNA, and RNA) of the cells that secrete them. They are taken up by distant cells, where they can affect cell function and behavior. The research stolen by Chen and Zhou involved the isolation of exosomes and the treatment of several medical conditions, including liver cancer and necrotizing enterocolitis, that can affect premature babies.
DoJ says that Chen was paid by Chinese state-run outfits like State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs and the National Natural Science Foundation of China in exchange for stolen scientific research. The US Department of Justice said: “Chen also applied to multiple Chinese government talent plans, a method used by China to transfer foreign research and technology to the Chinese government.”
Chen pleaded guilty to the charges brought in by DoJ. She also agreed to forfeit approximately $1.4 million together with 500,000 shares of common stock of Avalon GloboCare Corp. and 400 shares of common stock of GenExosome Technologies Inc.