William French Anderson

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William French Anderson
Dr. W. French Anderson at Gene therapy press conference (cropped).jpg
Dr. Anderson in 1990
Born (1936-12-31) December 31, 1936 (age 82)
EducationHarvard College
Harvard Medical School
Known forContributions to gene therapy
Scientific career
molecular biology
Criminal statusReleased
Conviction(s)Lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14 (three counts)
Continuous sexual abuse (one count)
Criminal penalty18 years imprisonment

William French Anderson (born December 31, 1936) is an American physician, geneticist and molecular biologist. He is considered a pioneer of gene therapy. He graduated from Harvard College in 1958 and from Harvard Medical School in 1963. In 1990, he claimed to be the first person ever to succeed in gene therapy of a 4-year-old girl suffering from severe combined immunodeficiency (a disorder called "bubble boy disease").[1][2] In 2006, he was convicted of sexual abuse of a minor and in 2007 was sentenced to 14 years in prison.



Anderson was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father was a civil engineer and his mother was a journalist, writer[3] and university professor.[4] According to his biography, he stuttered.[5] He eventually overcame his impediment and was recognized for his performance in track, theater, and debate. Anderson was a 1954 graduate of Tulsa Central High School.


He entered Harvard University, where he became a track star and published several papers, including one outlining a method for arithmetic operations using Maya numerals.[6][7] His school teacher had written a letter to the Harvard classics department and Prof. Sterling Dow arranged that the Oklahoma school boy be admitted to Harvard College and a freshman's paper published in Classical Philology (51, 1956).[8] Following a year abroad in Cambridge, where he met his future wife Kathy Duncan, he returned to Harvard, to the Medical School, accompanied by Kathy. They married in 1961 and both graduated a few years later.[7]

Anderson was employed by the National Institutes of Health, beginning a search to find ways to repair defective genes. Using microinjection methods, the approach was slow and inefficient. After abandoning this approach, his contributions to this field were non-existent until, in 1984, Richard C. Mulligan of MIT published a method to insert genes by using a retrovirus. Dr. Anderson wanted to test this theory with a human disease. In 1988 his proposal to the Human Gene Therapy Subcommittee[9] was denied,[7] however his request for a hearing before the full committee proceeded, and the trial was approved.[7]

In May 1989 he conducted the first human safety test for gene therapy, a harmless marker injected into a 53-year-old man. A year later a therapeutic trial was begun, to replace a defective ADA gene in a 4-year-old girl, called Ashanti DeSilva (also called Ashi). In 2007, at the age of 21, she was stable, but still had to take regular medication. The scientific consensus on this gene therapy trial was mixed, but there is no question that his work had great impact on the emerging field.[7] Research continues with the announcement of the first gene therapy ever to reach the market in the United States in the summer of 2017 for leukemia.

He joined the University of Southern California faculty in 1992 and was the director of the Gene Therapy Laboratories at the Keck School of Medicine and was a professor of biochemistry and pediatrics.

He was the founding editor of the peer-reviewed journal Human Gene Therapy.

Sexual abuse conviction[edit]

Anderson was arrested on July 30, 2004 on allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. He was convicted and jailed on July 19, 2006 of three counts of lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14 for the years 1997 through 2001 and one count of continuous sexual abuse. On February 2, 2007, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison and ordered to pay $68,000 in restitution, fines, and fees; he had faced a maximum of 18 years for molesting the girl, the daughter of his Chinese business partner, in his home when she was 10 to 15 years old.[10] The jury was shown reconstructed draft e-mails from the victim's PC and played an edited tape-recorded single conversation from a "sting" where the girl angrily and publicly confronted Anderson, who said: "I just did it, just something in me was just evil."[11] Following conviction, Anderson was stripped of tenure, fired from his faculty position and barred from the campus of his university[12] with much of his gene therapy work showing up in Chinese research publications later that year.[13]

In February, 2005 Anderson was also charged in Montgomery County, Maryland with molesting a Silver Spring, Maryland boy for three years in the 1980s. Prosecutors dropped those charges, citing insufficient evidence under Maryland law and credibility of the witness.[14]

Anderson was released from prison on May 18, 2018.[15]


  1. ^ Technology Review, November/December 2006 issue, p. 43.
  2. ^ Human Gene Therapy - Harsh Lessons, High Hopes U.S. Food and Drug Administration - FDA Consumer magazine, September–October 2000
  3. ^ "LaVere Anderson". Librarything.com. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  4. ^ "Page not found". The University of Tulsa. Archived from the original on 2014-04-27. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  5. ^ "Page Not Found - Los Angeles Times". Latimes.com. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  6. ^ Anderson, W. F. (1971). Arithmetic in Maya numerals. American Antiquity, 54-63.
  7. ^ a b c d e Jennifer Kahn, The Unraveling, Wired October 2007, p. 198
  8. ^ W. Calder III, Men in their Books. Studies in the modern history of classical scholarship, Hildesheim, Zürich, New York 1998, p. 287
  10. ^ W. French Anderson convicted The Scientist July 20, 2006
  11. ^ "World Renowned Geneticist Sentenced to 14 Years in Prison for Molesting Employee's Daughter". Foxnews.com. 3 February 2007. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  12. ^ "W. French Anderson convicted". The Scientist. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  13. ^ Pearson, Sue; Jia, Hepeng; Kandachi, Keiko (1 January 2004). "China approves first gene therapy". Nature Biotechnology. 22 (1): 3–4. doi:10.1038/nbt0104-3. PMID 14704685. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  14. ^ "Jury convicts genetic pioneer of molestation". Gazette.net. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  15. ^ "French Anderson, "Father" of Gene Therapy, Released From Prison - DNA Science Blog". Blogs.plos.org. 18 May 2018. Retrieved 24 May 2018.

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