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Dr. Gene C. Gurkoff

Dr. Gene Gurkoff is post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, CA and a CBST Member.  His research interest focuses on traumatic brain injury.  Over 1.7 million people annually suffer a traumatic brain injury.  This results in over 50,000 deaths and over 275,000 hospitalizations. Many individuals suffer from long-term disabilities following their injuries.  Dr. Gurkoff is part of a translational research team including neuroscientists and neurosurgeons who are trying to develop and implement novel therapies that will improve the quality of life for people who have suffered from a traumatic brain injury.


Dr. Gurkoff is also dedicated to training undergraduate students in laboratory research skills. Working with the education team at CBST Dr. Gurkoff has participated in both a Winter and Summer Internship program.  He has focused specifically on leading a journal club designed to improve comprehension and presentation of the types of basic research articles that they will encounter in their intellectual development.  In his four years with CBST Dr. Gurkoff has also mentored 8 undergraduate students in the neurotrauma laboratories. He engages his students in specific projects encouraging them to better understand hypothesis and experimental design while at the same time learning basic laboratory skills.

Dr. Gurkoff received his B.S. in Neuroscience at Brown University in Providence Rhode Island. He became interested in biomedical science as an undergraduate researcher, first as a summer intern in a protein chemistry lab studying therapies for skin disorders and then at Brown University in a chronic pain laboratory.  In his undergraduate research Dr. Gurkoff placed electrodes in the spinal cord of intact rats in order to measure pain transmission from the hindpaw to the brain.  His particular project was to determine whether a cannabinoid analog could reduce signal related to chronic pain while preserving critical information related to basic touch. Following his graduation from Brown, Dr. Gurkoff interned for two years in a chronic pain lab at the University of California San Francisco prior to enrolling in the neuroscience interdeparmental graduate program at the University of California, Los Angeles.    At UCLA Dr. Gurkoff shifted his focus from chronic pain to traumatic brain injury.  His dissertation at UCLA focused on the consequences of repeat brain injury in the juvenille population.  His research found that, contrary to what he hypothesized, depending on the type of injury and the interval between injuries, the brain may or may not be vulnerable.  After receiving his Ph.D. Dr. Gurkoff moved to the University of California, Davis to start a collaboration with the departments of neurological surgery and CBST.  The goal was to use high resolution microscopy to address questions about brain injury that could not be assessed using standard light microscopy. 

Research interests and projects in the Neurotrauma labs include:

The neurotrauma has a wide-range of research interests.  Some of the projects are translational with the goal of implementing our findings in the lab to patients in the ICU.  Two current studies are investigating therapies to reduce neuronal toxicity following traumatic brain injury, especially in the cases where patients have a secondary insult such as ischemia, hypoxia or seizures.  Additionally the lab is developing a model of neuromodulation (deep brain stimulation) to see if driving specific areas of the injured brain can restore function.  The lab is also collaborating with members of the Lawrence Livermore National Lab to develop a sensor which could be used to better assess the forces involved in mechanical and blast injuries that are prevelant in sports and battle-field related injuries respectively.


The neurotrauma labs along with CBST also have an ongoing collaboration with Banyan Biomarkers Inc. in Gainesville Florida.  Banyan is interested in developing devices that can measure breakdown products from very specific proteins to assess whether a patient has incurred a brain injury.  The collaboration includes several projects related both to understanding the production and measurement of biomarkers as well as potential therapeutic interventions.


One additional interest in the lab is neutriceuticals.  Does diet effect the way a brain responds to injury?  In the case of professional and semi-professional atheletes or members of our military, are there things that should be included in their diets like omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidents?  If so in what concentration?  When do they have to be consumed relative to time of activity?  Our hope is that by addressing these questions we can design and implement a dietary supplement that protects the brains of individuals who are at risk for TBI.

Members of the Neurotrauma Basic Research Laboratory: Dr. Gurkoff is a member of the neurotrauma labs at the University of California, Davis.  The priciple investigators in the lab are Dr. Bruce Lyeth and Dr. Rob Berman who have a long history of publications related to better understanding the mechanisms and treatment of traumatic brain injury.  The neurotrauma labs also have two graduate students, Darrin Lee, who is studying traumatic brain injury and secondary insult, and Eric West who is interested in better understanding the contribution of microglia following head injury.  The lab has two excellent technicians: Ken Van, who performs much of the surgery and behavioral experiments for the in the in-vivo studies and Emily Doisy who is responsbile for the cell culture facility.  The lab is also the home of several undergraudate students who work with Drs. Lyeth, Berman and Gurkoff on specific projects in the lab.  Finally the neurotrauma laboratory is proud to be saying good-bye to Justin Beller. Justin is a graduate student who is preparing to defend his dissertation, which explored whether it is possible to improve glutamate clearance from the synapse following injury to reduce neuronal toxicity.

List of Publications:

1.      Gurkoff GG, Giza CC, Hovd DA.  Lateral Fluid Percussion Injury in the Developing Rat Causes An Acutre, Mild Behavioral Dysfunction in the Absence of Significant Cell Death.  Brain Research 1077(1); 24-36, 2006.

2.      Myer DJ, Gurkoff GG, Norton D, Lee SM, Hovda DA, and Sofroniew MV. Essential Protective Roles of Reactive Astrocytes in Traumatic Brain Injury.  Brain 129(Pt 10); 2761-2772, 2006.

3.      Zhang B, West EJ, Van KC, Gurkoff GGZhou J, Zhang X-M,  Kozikowski AP, and Lyeth BG.  HDAC Inhibitor Increases Histone H3 Acyetylation and Reduces Microglia Inflammatory Response Following Traumatic Brain Injury in Rats.  Brain Research 1226; 181-191, 2008.

4.      Gurkoff GG, Shin D, Auvin S, Sankar R, and Hovda DA. Acute Neuroprotection to Pilocarpine-Induced Seizures is Not Sustained After Traumatic Brain Injury in the Developing RatNeuroscience 164(2); 862-876, 2009

5.      Shahlaie K, Lyeth BG, Gurkoff GG, Muizelaar JP and Berman RF. Neuroprotective Effects of Selective N-Type VGCC Blockade on Stretch Injury-Induced Calcium Dynamics in CorticalNeurons. J Neurotrauma 27(1); 175-187, 2010.

6.      Feng J, Van KC, Gurkoff GG, Kopriva C, Song M, Yuen P, Jiang J, Zhou J, and Lyeth BG. Neuroprotective Efficacy of a NAAG Peptidase Inhibitor in Lateral Fluid Percussion TBI in Rats (submitted)

Outside interests:

Online gaming with old friends and colleagues, snow boarding, as much fine dining as a post-doctoral fellow can afford.

Gene G. Gurkoff, PhD

Post-Doctoral Fellow

Deparment of Neurological Surgery

1515 Newton Ct

Davis, California  95618

Phone: (530) 754-4966 (lab)