In memoriam: Dr. Richard G.W. Anderson

Dr. Richard G.W. Anderson, age 70, esteemed medical scientist and former chairman of the Department of Cell Biology at UT Southwestern, died March 19 in Portland, Ore. Dr. Anderson was chairman of cell biology from 1999 to 2010. He held the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Chair in Cellular and Molecular Biology.

“Dr. Anderson in every way exemplified the vigor and far-reaching influence of
UT Southwestern’s leadership in basic science,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, president of the medical center. “He was an inspiration to generations of young scientists, and we are proud to be beneficiaries of his legacy.”

Prior to attending Oregon State University, Anderson served in the U.S. Army as a demolitions expert. He went to OSU intending to become a forest ranger. Instead, he graduated as a mathematics major in 1965 and in 1970 completed a doctorate in anatomy at the University of Oregon Medical School. After graduation, he worked at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center using the electron microscope to study the three dimensional structure of cilia and basal bodies.

Dr. Richard G.W. Anderson

In 1973, Dr. Anderson became an assistant professor at UT Southwestern, and rose to the rank of professor in eight years. He served as chair of the graduate program in Cell Biology from 1975 to 1981 and founded the graduate program in Cell and Molecular Biology.

Southwestern Medical Foundation President Dr. Kern Wildenthal, former dean and president of the medical center, said, “Dick Anderson was not only an outstanding scientist and teacher but also an extraordinary leader and all-around good citizen of
UT Southwestern. All of us who worked with him over the decades feel very privileged to have had him as a valued colleague and loyal friend.”

Dr. Anderson’s early research at UT Southwestern focused on the mechanisms by which cells use endocytic receptors to engulf material from their environment. Drs. Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein, recipients of the 1985 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, commented that, “The two of us were extremely fortunate in 1974 to find that young Dick Anderson had joined our faculty. We had been trained as biochemists. Through biochemical studies, we had discovered that cells take up cholesterol from cholesterol-carrying low density lipoproteins (LDL) through a receptor-mediated process, but we had no idea how it actually worked. Dick brought the culture and methods of cell biology to our research. He agreed to collaborate with us, and the rest is history.

“In rigorous studies, Dick found that the LDL receptors are clustered in coated pits that enter cells as coated vesicles. Like most fundamental discoveries, the novelty of Dick’s findings engendered intense skepticism. Indeed, our first joint publication in 1974 was rejected initially by reviewers who believed that coated pits were ‘fixation artifacts.’ However, Dick proved to be correct, and his discovery launched a broad new field, now known as receptor-mediated endocytosis. Without Dick, our work would never have reached fruition.”

In the late 1980s Anderson began to study and to characterize a second endocytic pathway, this one involving lipid-anchored receptors localized in cell membrane regions called caveolae. To describe this pathway, he coined the word potocytosis.

“A key strength of Dick’s research,” said collaborator Dr. Peter Michaely, assistant professor of cell biology at UT Southwestern, “was his multidisciplinary approach, which combined cell biology and biochemical approaches with sophisticated light and electron microscopy approaches.”

Dr. Katherine Phelps, professor of cell biology, said, “Two of his accomplishments as chair of cell biology were establishing and developing successful campus wide core facilities for electron microscopy and live cell imaging.”

Dr. Anderson was passionate about scientific research, but his family always came first and foremost in his life. They shared his zeal for the out-of-doors. His back-country excursions with wife Barbara ranged from Alaska to Patagonia to Africa to New Zealand. These excursions were as extensive and cutting edge as his research. He embodied the concept of exploration in every facet of his life.

Dr. Anderson was born on March 25, 1940, in Bryn Mawr, Pa. He is survived by his wife, Barbara, daughter, Amber, and grandson, Matthew. He was preceded in death by a grown daughter, Heidi.

A celebration of Dr. Anderson’ life will take place at 4:30 p.m. on April 10 in the A.W. Harris Faculty Club. A reception will follow the program. Donations in his memory should be made to the Heidi H. Anderson Early Childhood Education Fund, Oregon Community Foundation, 1221 SW Yamhill St. #100, Portland, Ore. 97205

— Debbie Bolles

March 13-20, 2011 /