W. French Anderson arrested

'Father of gene therapy' is charged with child molestation

By | August 5, 2004

W. French Anderson, the director of the Gene Therapy Laboratories at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles and a professor of molecular biology, biochemistry, and pediatrics, was arrested last week (July 30) and charged with multiple counts of child molestation.

After spending the weekend in jail, Anderson was released after posting $600,000 bail. On Monday (August 2), Anderson pleaded not guilty to all charges. He was asked to reappear in court August 16 to schedule a date for a preliminary hearing.

According to a statement from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, the alleged victim was Anderson's student in Karate, and the crimes allegedly took place in Anderson's home. If convicted on all counts, the scientist, 67, could spend up to 56 years in jail.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, told The Scientist that Anderson was arrested Friday morning as he was leaving for work. Gibbons said that Anderson is charged with six counts of sexual child molestation, involving a girl who is now 17 years old. The alleged molestation began when the girl was 12, she said.

Anderson's home and office have been searched, Gibbons said, and some computers have been removed from his office as part of the case. The sheriff's department is conducting a "continuing investigation" to determine whether there are any other alleged victims, she said.

John Weiner, a spokesperson for the University of Southern California, told The Scientist that Anderson has been placed on paid administrative leave.

Anderson, known as the "father of gene therapy," led the first team to carry out an approved human gene therapy clinical protocol in September 1990. During the treatment, Anderson and his colleagues used a retrovirus to insert genes into the T lymphocytes of a 4-year-old girl suffering from severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID, caused by a deficiency in the adenosine deaminase gene. Since the transfer, the girl has displayed a sufficient number of corrected T lymphocytes to enable her to live a normal life, although she continues to take a low dose of drug therapy.

According to his Web site, Anderson has focused his recent research on gene therapy delivery systems. Specifically, he was working to design virus-based vectors to transfer genes and better vectors to insert genes into hematopoietic stem cells. He has also focused his efforts on developing genetic therapy techniques that can be used in utero, and nanotechnology for genomic applications, such as creating a nanochip that builds a cDNA library using only one cell.

Before joining the University of Southern California, Anderson spent 27 years as a gene therapy researcher at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

To date, Anderson has published almost 400 research articles and been profiled by a number of publications, including the New York Times and Scientific American.

He also has a fifth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and continues to compete in karate competitions.

Mary Ann Liebert, president and chief executive officer of Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., which publishes the journal Human Gene Therapy, where Anderson is founding editor and was editor-in-chief until a year ago, told The Scientist that her reaction to the news was one of "shock and disbelief."

Liebert added that her husband has known Anderson for 30 years and that she has known him for about 20. She said she has seen him with patients, staff members, and professional colleagues, and has been to his home. "This is certainly impossible to believe in someone whose personal and professional integrity seems so absolute," she said.

Editor's Note: Please see a letter on this story.

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