A former medical researcher at the Ohio-based Nationwide Children’s Hospital was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison after conspiring to steal and sell trade secrets to China, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
47-year old Li Chen pleaded guilty in July 2020 to stealing scientific research while working at one of the largest freestanding pediatric research centers in the US.
Exfiltrated data include exosome research used to identify and treat medical conditions such as liver fibrosis, liver cancer, and particular diseases found in premature babies.
According to court documents, Chen conspired to capitalize on the stolen trade secrets by creating exosome “isolation kits.”
“Chen started a company in China to sell the kits,” the DOJ said in a press release. “Chen received benefits from the Chinese government, including the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. She also applied to multiple Chinese government talent plans, a method used by China to transfer foreign research and technology to the Chinese government.”
Prosecutors have also arrested the husband and alleged co-conspirator, Yu Zhou, who worked in a separate medical research lab at the same medical center. Zhou’s sentencing is pending after he pleaded guilty to taking part in the scheme to steal and profit from US scientific research.
During their employment, the two allegedly used hospital equipment to create exosome images that were sent to their personal email addresses.
“Chen’s sentencing today is a recognition of the seriousness of this offense,” FBI Cincinnati Special Agent in Charge Chris Hoffman said. “Chen admitted to abusing the trust of Nationwide Children’s Hospital by stealing cutting-edge research to establish a company in China for her own financial gain. This sentence should serve as a deterrent to anyone else committing similar acts that the FBI will work closely with our partners to ensure the United States remains a world leader in science and technology innovation.”
On top of 30 months in prison, Chen was ordered to forfeit over $1.45 million and 500,000 shares of Avalon Globocare Corp stock and 400 shares of common stock of GenExosome Technologies, Inc.