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Cancer Researcher Obtains FBI Clearance

By Alexa D West, Contributing Writer

After her $750,000 grant was jeopardized by a delay in the government’s approval of her green card, a breast cancer researcher at Harvard last week passed through the security clearance stage, bringing her a step closer toward continuing her work funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Chinese-born Loling Song, who conducted research at Cornell before coming to Harvard Medical School, had initiated the process to achieve permanent residence status in 2004. Despite the FBI background clearance, Song said yesterday that her case is “still pending” and declined to comment further.

The grant that Song received from NIH required a Sept. 1 deadline for U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residence status.

According to the NIH website, research grants “generally” do not require U.S. citizenship, but in some cases, “individuals are required to have the appropriate citizenship status when the award is made rather than when the application is submitted.”

Harvard’s Director of Government Relations, Kevin Casey said that when Song did not receive her legal permanent resident status due to a hold-up in the FBI security clearance stage, the NIH gave her a two-month extension.

Song was officially cleared through FBI security checks after initiating a legal proceeding to “require the government to come to a final determination of her status,” Casey said.

“I’m not sure if it would have occurred anyway or because of the suit,” he said of the government’s decision.

Both the offices of Rep. Michael E. Capuano (D-Mass.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56 (D-Mass.) intervened on Song’s behalf in her application process, the Boston Globe reported.

Citizenship and Immigration Services also said that Song’s research qualified her for a “national interest waiver,” which speeds up processing of her application, according to the Boston Globe.

Casey said that based on his observations, Song’s case is not a common one for Harvard researchers.

“In my experience, it is not something that occurs regularly,” he said. “This is really the first instance that I was aware of an actual grant being [potentially] lost over a visa or green card.”

Casey said it is important for Song to continue conducting her research now that her funding is secured.

“She’s bridging physics and biology in cutting-edge ways to look at questions involving cancer,” he said. “I think it’s important that she’s able to continue to pursue her research.”

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