US Education Department to investigate school handling of Larry Nassar case
Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, speaks with his lawyer during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Michigan, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The US Department of Education announced Monday it was opening an investigation into Michigan State University's handling of reports of sexual abuse by disgraced former school doctor Larry Nassar.

Nassar, 54, who was the doctor for the US women's gymnastics team in addition to MSU, is facing life behind bars after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.

MSU, a public university of 50,000 students in Lansing, Michigan, has been accused by a number of former female athletes at the school of failing to appropriately handle complaints against Nassar.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the investigation will look at "systemic issues in (MSU's) handling of sex-based incidents involving Dr Larry Nassar."

"We expect MSU's full and complete disclosure about its actions to protect students from sexual assault," DeVos said in a statement.

"The crimes for which Dr Nassar has been convicted are unimaginable," she added. "The bravery shown by the survivors has been remarkable.

"Every student across every campus should know that I am committed to ensuring all students have access to a learning environment free from sexual misconduct and discrimination and that all institutions that fall short will be held accountable for violations of federal law," the education chief added.

Nassar has been accused by some 265 women of sexually abusing them over a more than two-decade career.

The key question for many victims has been who knew of Nassar's abuse and who could have stopped him earlier.

With a stellar reputation as the doctor to Olympic champions, Nassar evaded scrutiny several times since the late 1990s by insisting his abuse was actually cutting-edge treatment that was misunderstood by some patients.

USA Gymnastics reported Nassar to the FBI in July 2015, but he continued to see patients at MSU until a newspaper exposed him in September 2016.

The New York Times reported that at least 40 more women and girls were molested during that time.