LOS ANGELES — Gene therapy pioneer Dr. William French Anderson was arrested Friday on charges he sexually molested a girl he had coached in karate, authorities said.
Anderson, 67, an internationally prominent University of Southern California scientist, was arrested at his San Marino home one day after prosecutors filed a criminal complaint alleging six felony counts of assault, said Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
Anderson abused the girl, now 17, at his home from 1997 to 2001, authorities said.
He was charged with one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child under the age of 14 and five counts of lewd acts on a child under the age of 14. Anderson, who could be sentenced to 56 years in prison if convicted, was being held on $6 million bail pending an arraignment Tuesday.
Anderson, director of the university’s Gene Therapy Laboratories at the Keck School of Medicine, was placed on administrative leave Friday, USC said in a statement.
According to Anderson’s personal Web site, which describes him as the “Father of Gene Therapy,” he has pioneered the field, published 375 research articles on the subject and won a long list of prizes and awards.
Anderson is a fifth-degree black belt in the martial art of tae kwan do and was the U.S. Olympic Team physician at the 1988 Olympic Games.
Detectives served search warrants Friday at Anderson’s home and at his office, where authorities confiscated computers, according to USC.
Anderson led a team that performed the first approved human gene therapy trial in 1990. A 4-year-old girl who suffered from a disease that left her vulnerable to infection was given white blood cells altered to include a copy of the gene that makes adenosine deaminase or ADA, the enzyme she lacked. The girl continues to do well, but it is unclear whether that is due to the therapy because she also received injections of synthetic ADA.
Overall, gene therapy has had mixed results, with few clear-cut cases of success.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.