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Former Nationwide Children's researcher sentenced for conspiring to steal trade secrets, sell them in China

As part of her sentence, Li Chen was ordered to pay $2.6 million in restitution.
Credit: Delaware County Jail

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A former Nationwide Children's Researcher has been sentenced to 30 months in prison and must pay $2.6 million in restitution for conspiring to steal trade secrets.

Li Chen, 48, also conspired to commit wire fraud, according to U.S. District Attorney David DeVillers.

Chen admitted in her guilty plea in July 2020 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.

Chen and her husband, co-conspirator Yu Zhou, 50, worked in separate medical research labs at the Research Institute for 10 years each. Chen worked from 2008-2018 while Zhou worked from 2007-2017.

They pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal at least five trade secrets related to exosome research from Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

According to DeVillers, court documents show that Chen conspired to steal and make money off one of the trade secrets by creating and selling exosome "isolation kits." Chen started a company in China to sell the kits.

An indictment in 2019 describes exosome as small membrane-bound sacs that are produced by human cells and carry derived components such as RNA, microRNA, and DNA. 

DeVillers says 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.

“Chen and her husband executed a scheme over the course of several years to set up businesses in China, steal American research and profit from doing so,” DeVillers said. “Chen willingly took part in the Chinese Government’s long-term efforts to steal American intellectual property. She deserves time in federal prison.”

Chen will forfeit approximately $1.45 million, 500,000 shares of common stock of Avalon Globocare Corp. and 400 shares of common stock of GenoExosome Technologies, Inc.

The pair was arrested in July 2019 in San Diego

Zhou has also pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

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