University of Florida Health biochemistry professor Mavis Agbandje-McKenna, Ph.D., whose world-renowned work on the detailed structure of viruses led to advances in gene therapy treatments for different diseases, died Wednesday at her home near Gainesville of the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. She was 57.
Agbandje-McKenna’s work with the small, infectious particles had a worldwide impact, allowing other scientists to be more precise in their use of viruses for therapeutics. She was instrumental in advancing the use of the adeno-associated virus, or AAV, as a leading method for gene delivery to treat a variety of human diseases. In addition to her scientific work, she was an avid mentor for students.
“Joining the lab of Dr. Mavis Agbandje-McKenna was one of the best decisions of my life,” said Lawrence Tartaglia, Ph.D. ’13, a Lehigh University teacher and former mentee of Agbandje-McKenna, in an interview last year. “She embodies everything that is right in a human being, not just a scientist. I learned from her that, as an educator, you should be willing to put everything you have into your students’ well-being and academic success. During my late-night experiments in her lab, she would immediately respond to my questions emailed to her at midnight and beyond. She would meet me on Saturdays to teach me that latest and greatest software for our structural studies. I feel it’s my duty to educate our next generation of young scientists in the same fashion in which she mentored me.”