The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Ann Kiessling Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

June 13, 2014


Ann Drue Anderson was born in 1942 in Baker, Oregon and raised in Klamath Falls. Interested in science from an early age, Anderson attended Georgetown University from 1960-1962 and the University of Virginia from 1962-1964, obtaining a degree in nursing. She then used her training as a nurse to fund the next phase of her education, earning bachelor's and master's degree in chemistry from Central Washington State College, concluding in 1967.

That same year Anderson began her doctoral program at Oregon State University. Attracted by OSU's offerings in biochemistry, and interested in studying cancer, Anderson worked under Dr. George Beaudreau, who was investigating a family of viruses known to cause leukemia in chickens. As a member of Beaudreau's laboratory, Anderson was among the first scientists to prove that a reverse enzyme - an enzyme in which genetic information flows from RNA to DNA - existed in this family of viruses. Her doctoral thesis, defended in February 1971 and published under her married name, Ann Kiessling, was titled "Nucleic Acid Polymerases Associated with Neoplasms."

Her time at OSU completed, Kiessling went on to enjoy a decorated career based primarily at three institutions: Oregon Health Sciences University (1977-1985), Harvard Medical School (1985-2012) and the Bedford Stem Cell Research Foundation, which she founded in 1996. As a post-doctoral fellow, Kiessling continued to work on the connection between viruses and cancer, discovering in 1979 that reverse viruses could be found in normal human cells, where previously they had been assumed to exist only in retroviruses. Delving further into this line of research, Kiessling began to study human eggs and early cleaving embryos. This interest eventually led her to pursue work with human stem cells.

Today Kiessling is regarded as an international leader in both reproductive biology and stem cell research. Kiessling's creation of the Bedford Foundation - an independent, non-profit research institute - arose from her desire to conduct work on biomedical topics that are avoided by larger institutions for political reasons. Among other topics, the foundation's research agenda includes experimentation on stem cells as they may relate to curing HIV and spinal cord injuries.