Oral History Interview with Paul J. Anderson

  • 1995-May-18 – 1995-May-19
  • 1995-May-22

Paul J. Anderson, the oldest of four children, was born in 1954; he grew up in a suburb of Syracuse, New York. His father was a school teacher and administrator, his mother a housewife. He discovered a love of science when he was about 10 years old, a love he nurtured through his BS degree in biology from the State University of New York (SUNY), Stony Brook in 1978. Biochemistry professor Bernard Dudock inspired Anderson to work part time in William Bauer’s labs, where he was encouraged to design his own experiments, an unusual practice for undergraduates. At that time Bauer was working on DNA, and in his labs Anderson met Francis Crick. Anderson also was able to publish some articles about his work in those labs.

He then entered a joint MD/PhD program at New York University (NYU), receiving his MD in 1983 and his PhD in 1984. Interested in immunology, he specialized in rheumatology for his two clinical years at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. During this period he became involved in the excitement of working on interferon and interferon receptors. He also began working at Stuart F. Schlossman’s lab at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where work was being done on different subpopulations of T lymphocytes in the peripheral blood.

Schlossman became a mentor to Anderson, whose biochemical background and focus on immunology led him to develop an assay to identify intracellular antigens. This involved developing a cytometric flow assay to screen for monoclonal antibodies. Anderson observed that natural killer cells express zeta, an antibody that reacts with cytotoxic lymphocytes. He tracked the antigen causing transplant rejection to cytotoxic granules, reinforcing the theory that the antibody could recognize a toxic molecule. It became clear that the full-length RNA-binding protein is involved somehow in signaling apoptotic death in cytotoxic lymphocyte target cells, and we now know in all cells. He helped found the biotechnology company Apoptosis Technology as a subsidiary of Immunogen; he has several patents.
Anderson finds science unpredictable when he enters new areas; this is exciting to him and is one of the main reasons he continues to love research science. He believes we will continue to learn more about the molecular mechanisms of apoptosis, which will allow us to interfere in the molecular cell death and thereby to control or cure various diseases and health problems like cancer or organ rejection.

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