Biophysics Pioneer

Amzel led seminal work in immunology and advanced knowledge of proteins.

Published in Hopkins Medicine - Winter 2022

L. Mario Amzel, an international leader in the field of biophysics, leaves a legacy that includes pioneering work in immunology and in understanding proteins that play roles in cancer and cardiac cells.

The professor and former director of the Department of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, died on August 28, 2021, at age 78.

“He was a scientist’s scientist — one of our deepest and broadest thinkers — and a thoughtful, warm and caring colleague, who always put people — especially students — above all else,” says Bertrand Garcia-Moreno, a biophysicist in Johns Hopkins’ Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and vice dean for natural sciences at Johns Hopkins.

Amzel was a member of the Johns Hopkins team that produced the first high-resolution images of antibody-antigen recognition. His early work to crystallize and determine the structure of an antibody was of seminal importance in immunology. Internationally renowned, Amzel regularly lectured at leading universities and research institutes, and authored more than 250 journal articles.

His research also involved the cancer-related protein PI3K, which is part of the body’s hormone signaling system. In addition, his research led to major discoveries that determined how proteins navigate sodium channels in cardiac cells, a key factor in enabling the heart to beat.

Amzel grew up helping out in his parents’ shoe store in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the Universidad de Buenos Aires as a coup overthrew the government and the military took charge of national universities. He began his postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins in 1969 and remained at the institution, rising to full professor in 1984. He directed the Department of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry from 2006 until his retirement in May 2021. He continued to lead his research laboratory.

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