NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins raises concerns about foreign influence in US research

September 11, 2018
Maria T. Zuber, Vice President for Research |

Dear MIT Researchers,

NIH Director Francis Collins recently raised concerns about improper foreign influence in US research. I’m writing now to make sure you’re aware of them, and that you’re familiar with and following relevant MIT policies and processes.


On August 23, 2018, Dr. Collins testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and distributed a letter to the NIH extramural research community raising concerns that foreign entities have developed systematic programs to influence NIH researchers and peer reviewers inappropriately. This improper influence has had an impact well beyond the biomedical research community, including in defense and energy research. 

In his letter and testimony, Dr. Collins highlights a range of concerning behavior, including:

  1. Improper diversion of intellectual property in connection with federally supported research to other entities, including entities in other countries;
  2. Improper sharing of confidential information on grant applications by peer reviewers with others, including foreign entities, or otherwise attempting to improperly interfere with funding decisions; and
  3. A failure to improperly disclose substantial resources from other organizations, including foreign governments, in grant applications.

In response, NIH, other government agencies, and other stakeholders are identifying steps to address incidents of this type. Dr. Collins has formed a new advisory committee to the NIH Director (see below) on which I have been asked to serve.

What You Need to Do

I will share additional information and guidance as it becomes available. In the meantime, I want to remind you of your responsibility to:

  • Disclose any planned collaborations – official or unofficial – with foreign or domestic organizations in your proposals, including exchanges of personnel, materials, data, or confidential information.  
  • Disclose all of your sponsored programs in your Current and Pending Support pages for federal proposals, per agency instructions.
  • Disclose all of your outside professional activities (OPA) and relationships, whether compensated or uncompensated, through the OPA process, including but not limited to appointments that you hold at other institutions (e.g., visiting scientist, professor, adjunct). Please keep your department head/lab director informed of any OPA changes throughout the year. You can also e-mail for questions and support about MIT’s disclosure policies.
  • Check for compliance with US export control regulations before traveling abroad; collaborating with international partners either formally or informally; making international financial transactions; shipping materials internationally; transferring technology; and using restricted materials for research. MIT’s Export Control Officer can assist you with specific questions related to your proposed activities.  

Please remember that all MIT faculty, staff, and researchers are required to sign and adhere to MIT’s Invention and Proprietary Information Agreement (IPIA), which assigns to MIT any intellectual property created as part of sponsored research or Institute-funded research or when making use of significant Institute funds or facilities. This IPIA and the obligation to promptly disclose intellectual property to the Technology Licensing Office is critical to MIT’s compliance with NIH and other federal funding regulations. The IPIA may be signed electronically. The Technology Licensing Office can assist with any related questions.

Sincerely yours,

Maria T. Zuber
Vice President for Research and E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics

Additional Resources

Advisory Committee to the NIH Director

The Charge and Membership of the new Advisory Committee to the NIH Director, as described during Dr. Francis Collins’ testimony before Congress, August 23, 2018.


  1. Identify robust methods to implore accurate reporting of all sources of research support, financial interests, and affiliations;
  2. Mitigate the risks to intellectual property security;
  3. Explore additional steps to protect the integrity of peer review;
  4. And most importantly, carry out these actions in a way that reflects the long tradition of partnership between NIH and grantee institutions, and that emphasizes the compelling value of ongoing honorable participation by foreign nationals in the American scientific enterprise.


  • Roy Wilson, President, Wayne State University, Co-Chair
  • Lawrence Tabak, Deputy Director, NIH, Co-Chair
  • Jeffrey Balser, Dean of the School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University
  • Ana Mari Cauce, President, University of Washington
  • Michael Drake, President, The Ohio State University
  • Wallace Loh, President, University of Maryland
  • Samuel Stanley, President, Stony Brook University
  • Maria Zuber, Vice President for Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology