1. News
  2. /
  3. Health

University of Florida also a target in foreign research scandal

In a scenario similar to last month’s revelations about Moffitt Cancer Center, four UF faculty members were found to have ties with foreign recruitment programs.
Century Tower rises at the center of the University of Florida campus, where four medical school researchers recently were found to have had foreign interactions that violated university rules. [University of Florida]
Century Tower rises at the center of the University of Florida campus, where four medical school researchers recently were found to have had foreign interactions that violated university rules. [University of Florida]
Published Jan. 14
Updated Jan. 14

Four faculty members from the University of Florida have left the school amid a widening investigation into foreign exploitation of American-funded medical research.

Three of the researchers resigned and one was terminated after the university received a letter from the National Institutes of Health regarding questionable foreign meddling in grant research and funding. The terminated employee worked part time for the university’s College of Medicine. Two were from the College of Engineering and one was from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Two of the researchers were tied directly to the inquiry by the federal agency, which gives out $30 billion a year to American scientists and universities for biomedical research. Activity by the two others came to light during the university’s own review, said UF spokesman Steve Orlando.

The National Institutes of Health awarded UF more than $190 million in grants last year, more than any other Florida university. The school now joins the ranks of Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center, which last month became part of the government’s inquiry into whether America’s investment in top scientific research is being systematically stolen by foreign actors.

Moffitt cut ties with its CEO Dr. Alan List and five other employees over their failure to disclose ties to Chinese programs that aim to improve the quality of that country’s research and innovation by luring back esteemed scientists. Researchers would be paid for their work, sometimes in Chinese currency. Others would steal ideas from peer-reviewed proposals that originated the U.S. and were funded by U.S. agencies.

RELATED: Moffitt Cancer Center shakeup: CEO and others resign over China ties

Evidence was found that the six Moffitt employees were potentially compensated by a Chinese talent recruitment program and failed to disclose it, officials at the center said. Moffitt officials did not divulge whether List and others accepted money from China, but said an internal investigation revealed conflicts of interest and a lack of disclosure of international collaborators.

The NIH has launched 180 individual inquiries into 70 institutions related to foreign attempts to take advantage of U.S.-backed medical research.

“The university has identified certain faculty members who were participating or were seeking to participate in a foreign talents program. The university has addressed or is in the process of addressing each of these matters,” UF President W. Kent Fuchs wrote in a Dec. 13 letter to U.S. Senator Rick Scott.

Earlier in the month, Scott sent letters to Florida university presidents requesting more information on any steps they have taken to protect intellectual property from “the influence of foreign adversaries, including Communist China”.

Chris Hartline, Scott’s communications director, confirmed that three responses from universities have been received. The University of South Florida in Tampa had yet to submit a response as of Monday.

RELATED: Florida House speaker calls for investigation into China-Moffitt ties

At the state level, Rep. Chris Sprowls is leading a committee in the Florida House to investigate the Moffitt case and others in the state. That committee will meet for the first time on Jan. 21, Sprowls said.

Meanwhile, other connections to Chinese recruitment programs are being discovered at research institutions across the country. A federal judge will decide what becomes of Feng “Franklin” Tao, an engineering professor, for allegedly working for China in secret while also working for the University of Kansas. Another cancer researcher in Boston is accused of trying to smuggle stolen lab samples in his luggage. He was attempting to board a flight to Beijing when authorities stopped him, according to the New York Times.

RELATED: Moffitt turmoil began with national concern over China, stolen research

The University of Florida launched a website outlining the proper disclosure requirements for researchers last year. It also developed a new international risk assessment process to screen activities with foreign institutions and developed an electronic system to monitor the disclosures of outside activities and interests, which Fuchs outlined in his letter to Scott.

The UF president also offered to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with Scott in person.

“The university does not approve participation in foreign talents programs as an outside activity,” Fuchs wrote. “Any faculty member who fails to disclose their participation in a foreign talents program is subject to discipline, including termination for cause.”


  1. “My body, my choice” was the rallying cry on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade in the state Capitol, where abortion rights activists decried a fast-tracked bill that would raise the bar for minors seeking abortions. (AP Photo/Aileen Perilla) [AILEEN PERILLA  |  AP]
    Abortion supporters worry about Florida’s move toward parental consent and what may follow.
  2. Staff move bio-waste containers past the entrance of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a new virus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The number of cases of a new coronavirus from Wuhan has risen over 400 in China Chinese health authorities said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Dake Kang) [DAKE KANG  |  AP]
    On the eve of the Lunar New Year, transportation was shut down in at least 13 cities home to more than 36 million people.
  3. This Feb. 6, 2015, file photo shows a Measles, Mumps and Rubella, M-M-R vaccine on a countertop at a pediatrics clinic in Greenbrae, Calif. A study released this week has found that a 2016 California law intended to improve childhood vaccination rates had the greatest effect on high-risk areas where the rates were the lowest. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File) [ERIC RISBERG  |  AP]
    The case involves a man who recently traveled to South America.
  4. To accommodate the swelling numbers of aging baby boomers, experts say we will need to make transportation more readily available, build more affordable housing, modify homes and apartments to help seniors age in place, and create programs to bring young and old people together. [Times (2011)]
    “There’s never been a time like this,” one expert says. Solutions include more health aides, taming long-term care costs and just healthier living.
  5. Joseph Hernandez Hall is home to the University of Florida's chemistry department, where a faculty member recently resigned after officials discovered he failed to disclose his strong ties to China. While at UF, the faculty member also held positions at two Chinese universities, including vice president and dean. The faculty member was not named in a report obtained Tuesday from the Florida Legislature. [University of Florida]
    They also collected grant money from the U.S. government while never disclosing their outside work in China.
  6. Margaret Pruitt, today’s exercise model, is a real wonder woman.
  7. Travelers wear face masks as they sit in a waiting room at the Beijing West Railway Station in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A fourth person has died in an outbreak of a new coronavirus in China, authorities said Tuesday, as more places stepped up medical screening of travelers from the country as it enters its busiest travel period. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) [MARK SCHIEFELBEIN  |  AP]
    The possibility the virus can be transmitted between people increases the chances it could spread faster and more widely.
  8. A new report to the Florida Legislature details the investigation that led to the forced resignations of six Moffitt Cancer Center employees in December, including president and CEO Dr. Alan List. [Moffitt Cancer Center]
    The money came from the “Thousand Talents Program” and went to personal accounts set up in China.
  9. The C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System. (Times | 2014)
    The chief justice dropped an ‘Okay, Boomer’ reference during oral arguments in the case of a pharmacist who accused the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System of age discrimination.
  10. Six of the 11 Pinellas County Head Start preschool centers found to have mold problems earlier this month are still closed. A few more could reopen next week, but some could be closed longer. [Google Maps]
    Five of the 11 affected locations have reopened, but hundreds of children can’t go back to their preschool yet.