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NICHD's Gordon Guroff Dies in Auto Accident

By Bob Bock

Dr. Gordon Guroff, deputy scientific director of NICHD, died July 9 in an automobile accident in Moultonsboro, N.H. The 66-year-old biochemist was best known for his groundbreaking research on neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that brain and nerve cells use to communicate.

"The NICHD community is shocked and saddened by this unexpected, tragic loss," said NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander. "He was a kind man and a brilliant scientist who will be deeply missed by his friends and colleagues."

Dr. Gordon Guroff

Guroff had been deputy scientific director since 1982. He began his NIH career at what was then the National Heart Institute in 1959. He is most well known for discerning the molecular mechanism by which certain amino acids are converted to the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. This mechanism, which involves a molecular process known as "hydroxylation," eventually became known in professional circles as "the NIH shift."

"We are indebted to Dr. Guroff for his scientific contributions, and the scientific community will be much the poorer for this loss," said NICHD acting scientific director Dr. Igor Dawid. "This loss pales in comparison, however, to the loss of a wonderful man and sincere friend."

Born in Chicago, Guroff received a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1954 and his M.S. in biochemistry from Alabama Polytechnic University in 1956. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin and shortly thereafter became a research fellow in the Laboratory of Clinical Biology at the National Heart Institute. In 1960, he became a chemist for that laboratory, and remained there until 1968.

He joined NICHD in 1968, as chief of the section on intermediary metabolism in the Laboratory of Biomedical Sciences. While he held this post, he also took a temporary assignment at the Biocenter of the University of Basel, in Switzerland. He then served as special assistant to the acting scientific director of NICHD, and later became acting scientific director. In 1976, he was appointed chief of the section on intermediary metabolism of NICHD's Laboratory of Neurobiology. In 1982, he became deputy scientific director and chief of the section on growth factors, positions he held until his death.

His recent work dealt with biochemical and molecular biological studies of nerve growth factor, a peptide required for the development of nervous system cells.

Among Guroff's other scientific accomplishments, he discovered a new class of proteases that are activated by calcium, and made important contributions to the development of affinity chromatography, a method for purifying proteins.

Guroff was an accomplished mentor, having trained more than 100 postdoctoral fellows at NICHD, and in recent years was in charge of the NICHD summer student research program. In addition to his duties at NICHD, he was also a lecturer in biochemistry at George Washington University.

He was a member of numerous professional societies including the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society for Neurochemistry, the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, and the Society for Neuroscience. He has authored or coauthored nearly 200 scientific papers and the book, Molecular Neurology. He has also edited Oncogenes, Genes, and Growth Factors, and the three volume series, Growth and Maturation Factors.

Guroff is survived by his wife of 26 years, Marjorie Robert-Guroff and their children, Sarah and Robert Guroff; by three children from a prior marriage to Julie Guroff — Peter Guroff, Margaret Guroff, and Steven Guroff; by his mother, Sarah Guroff; and his brothers, Gregory Guroff and Avram "Buzz" Guroff; and by four grandchildren.

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