W. French Anderson convicted

'Father of gene therapy' faces years in jail for molesting a young girl; University bars him from campus, strips him of tenure and faculty position

Jul 20, 2006
Ishani Ganguli
W. French Anderson, a world-renowned geneticist at the University of Southern California, was convicted yesterday (July 19) on four counts of child molestation, according to the Los Angeles Times. He faces up to 22 years in state prison for molesting the now 19-year-old girl, the daughter of his colleague, in his home when she was 10 to 15 years old.Yesterday, the University of Southern California (USC) released a statement that it had suspended Anderson and was initiating dismissal proceedings to remove his tenure and faculty position, calling his actions a "grave offense" to the USC community. "Dr. Anderson is not allowed to come on campus; contact USC faculty, students, or staff; or conduct any USC business whatsoever."According to the Times, the jury took slightly longer than a day to deliberate. Deputy District Attorney Cathryn F. Brougham said that the decision demonstrated that the jury "did not allow his status, his high education, and his professional reputation to stand in the way of the truth," the Times reported.Anderson was arrested on July 30, 2004.According to a statement from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office released when Anderson was arrested, the victim was Anderson's student in Karate, and the crimes took place in Anderson's home.As 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, Anderson was known to many as the "father of gene therapy." In September 1990, he headed the first human gene therapy clinical protocol, successfully inserting the adenosine deaminase gene via retrovirus into the T lymphocytes of a 4-year-old girl with severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID.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."I find this extremely shocking, distressing, and terribly sad," 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 recently, said in a statement exclusively provided to The Scientist."I have known French for over 20 years and I have always found him to have the highest integrity and character. I have seen him with children of all ages, including my own, and I cannot and do not believe this is so," she added.Ishani Ganguli iganguli@the-scientist.comLinks within this article PY Hong, "Scientist guilty of child sex abuse," LA Times, July 19, 2006. http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/california/la-me-anderson20jul20,1,514315.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-californiaA McCook, "W. French Anderson arrested," The Scientist, August 5, 2004. http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/22328/Y. Zhao, et al., "Soluble factor(s) from bone marrow cells can rescue lethally irradiated mice by protecting endogenous hematopoietic stem cells," Exp Hematol., 2005. PM_ID: 15781333