Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 22, 1995

Research Kept Anfinsen Busy In Later Years

By Emil Venere and Ken Keatley /
Office of News and Information

     Christian Anfinsen talked about possibly retiring when he
turned 80.

     But, at 79, the legendary biochemist was doing important
research on bacteria that thrive in the ultra-hot waters along
volcanic vents on the ocean floors. One of his goals was to
isolate enzymes that might be used to neutralize the world's
dangerous stockpiles of chemical weapons.

     Biology professor Evangelos Moudrianakis, a longtime friend,
said the Nobel laureate was perhaps involved in the most
significant work of his career--understanding how these enzymes

     There was another side to Anfinsen. A side that belied his
scientific prowess, said Moudrianakis and other colleagues.

     "Everything he did was inspiring, but he did it in a very,
very low key, mild-mannered way," said biology professor Philip
Hartman. "You'd never know he was a Nobel Prize winner. He was as
modest as you can get.

     "He remarked to me recently that maybe he should retire and
make way for young investigators. He was always concerned with
young people."

     That's the last image his colleagues have of Anfinsen--a
hard-working, compassionate man of science who cared more about
the implications of his actions than his own reputation. 

     On Sunday, May 14, he suffered an apparent heart attack at
his Pikesville home and was later pronounced dead at Northwest
Hospital Center in Randallstown.

       Anfinsen won the 1972 Nobel Prize in chemistry and joined
the Hopkins faculty in biology in 1982.

     "He was obviously a very major scientific talent but also a
very warm and wonderful person," said former Hopkins president
Steven Muller, who appointed Anfinsen. "I thought the world of

     He won the Nobel Prize while chief of the laboratory of
chemical biology at what is now known as the National Institute
of Arthritis, Metabolism and Digestive Diseases. He shared the
prize with Rockefeller University scientists Stanford Moore and
William H. Stein; they were honored for their clarification of
the relationship between the structural properties of proteins
and their biological functions.

     Specifically, Anfinsen helped to discover how the protein
enzyme ribonuclease folds to obtain the characteristic
three-dimensional structure that determines its function.

     "Dr. Anfinsen was a true pioneer in the field of protein
structure and protein folding," said Daniel Nathans, a Nobel
Prize-winning physician and molecular biologist at Hopkins who
will become the university's interim president June 1. "His work
is the prototype for the many studies that have followed, and the
work still being done in this area." 

     A native of Monessen, Pa., Anfinsen earned his bachelor of
arts degree in 1937 from Swarthmore College and his master's
degree in organic chemistry in 1939 from the University of
Pennsylvania. In 1943, he received a doctorate in biochemistry
from Harvard Medical School, where he was an instructor and
assistant professor of biological chemistry from 1943 to 1950.
While at Harvard, he spent a year as senior fellow of the
American Cancer Society, working with Hugo Theorell at the
Medical Nobel Institute in Sweden.

     Anfinsen joined the National Institutes of Health in 1950 as
chief of the Laboratory of Cellular Physiology and Metabolism in
the National Heart Institute. From 1963 to 1981, he was chief of
the Laboratory of Chemical Biology in the National Institute of
Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases. Upon retirement from NIH in
1981, he spent a year in residence at the Weizmann Institute of
Science in Rehovot, Israel, before coming to Hopkins.

     He often joined forces with other scientists in calling for
the responsible use of research and to discourage the development
of biological weapons. In 1988, as a member of the Committee for
Responsible Genetics, he urged Congress not to fund a $300
million request by the Department of Defense for biological
weapons research.             

     He is survived by his wife, Libby; a sister; two daughters;
a son; four stepchildren; and 13 grandchildren.

     The family requested that any memorial contributions be made
to the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science,
51 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y., 10010.

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