Medical Researcher Jailed for Selling Secrets to China

The United States has imprisoned a woman who admitted conspiring with her husband to steal secret research from an Ohio’s children’s hospital and selling the stolen data to China.

Hospital researcher Li Chen pleaded guilty in July 2020 to conspiring to commit wire fraud and to stealing scientific trade secrets related to exosomes and exosome isolation from Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Research Institute for her own personal financial gain. 

The 47-year-old former resident of Dublin, Ohio, was yesterday sentenced to 30 months in prison by a United States District Court. 

Chen worked in a medical research lab at the Research Institute from 2007 to 2017. Her 50-year-old husband and co-conspirator, Yu Zhou, was employed in a separate lab at the Research Institute from 2008 until 2018.

Together the couple conspired to steal and then monetize research into exosomes, which play a key role in the research, identification, and treatment of a range of medical conditions, including liver fibrosis, liver cancer, and necrotizing enterocolitis, a condition found in premature babies.

Court documents state that after stealing the trade secrets, Chen conspired to monetize them by creating and selling exosome “isolation kits.” 

Chen started a company in China to sell the kits and 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, which the Department of Justice said is a known tactic used by China to transfer foreign research and technology to the Chinese government.

In addition to serving a custodial sentence, Chen was ordered to pay $2.6m in restitution. The researcher will also forfeit approximately $1.25m, 500,000 shares of common stock of Avalon GloboCare Corp., and 400 shares of common stock of GenExosome Technologies Inc. 

“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,” said the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Cincinnati Division, Chris Hoffman.

Zhou and Chen were arrested in California in July 2019. Zhou has pleaded guilty to his part in the conspiracy and awaits sentencing. 

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