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UC San Diego Sues USC, Alzheimer's Researcher

UC San Diego has sued USC and a nationally recognized Alzheimer's disease researcher, alleging they illegally conspired to take federal funding, data and employees from a UC San Diego study center on the illness, it was reported Monday.

The suit filed in San Diego County Superior Court charges that scientist Paul Aisen and eight colleagues illegally conspired to take research data and other assets with them when they moved from UC San Diego to USC, allegedly seeking to supplant their former center, the Los Angeles Times reported. Aisen left UC San Diego last month to head a new Alzheimer's institute founded by USC in San Diego, bringing the eight staffers with him.

Though universities commonly recruit or poach faculty from one another, lawsuits arising from those recruitments are rare. This lawsuit, formally filed by the UC regents, accuses USC and the other defendants of going beyond normal recruitment to commit a variety of illegal acts, including contract interference, computer crimes and civil conspiracy, according to The Times.

UC San Diego said it has been deprived of access to data from the Alzheimer's project because of violations by Aisen and the other defendants and potentially could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and private funding.

"This attempt to move a long-established research program without authorization to a private institution goes against the fundamental mission of the University of California – to provide excellence in teaching, research and public service. These acts, among others, are egregious breaches of academic, medical and legal standards of conduct, and are against the best interests of the University, our employees and our partners. UC San Diego is considering and will pursue appropriate legal remedies consistent with the public interest and the research mission of the ADCS," UC San Diego said in a statement.

The University of California is seeking an unspecified amount of money, to be determined through a jury trial. USC has denied wrongdoing and said it simply recruited a prestigious scientist, an activity that academic institutions routinely perform.

"We are surprised and disappointed that the University of California San Diego elected to sue its departing faculty member and his team, as well as USC, rather than manage this transition collaboratively, as is the well- accepted custom and practice in academia," USC said in a statement quoted by The Times.

Aisen did not provide a comment about the lawsuit and its allegations, acknowledging in an email only that he had received an interview request.

Aisen is best known for leading the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study, or ADCS, a nationwide effort to speed up getting promising Alzheimer's treatments to patients. Funded by the National Institute on Aging, the study has been based at UC San Diego since its creation in 1991. Aisen became its head in 2007.

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