Christina A. Gurnett


Christina A. Gurnett

98MD, 98PhD - Physiology and Biophysics 00R – Pediatrics

Christina Gurnett is a triple-threat as a scholar, teacher, and physician in the Department of Neurology at Washington University in St. Louis. A genetics expert, she has made significant advances in the study of epilepsy, clubfoot, and scoliosis. Gurnett co-founded the Washington University in St. Louis Pediatric Musculoskeletal DNA Databank, which focuses on collecting DNA from patients with pediatric musculoskeletal disorders. Gurnett has published prolifically, with 71 peer-reviewed papers, and she has received steady research funding for her work. Gurnett continues to see patients in the clinic and on the wards, and she has served as a mentor to graduate students, residents, undergraduates, and postdoctoral fellows.

As a Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) student at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, Gurnett studied brain and skeletal muscle ion channel physiology with Kevin Campbell, PhD. She recalls the camaraderie among the MSTP students that came from long hours of training in the medical labs.

“The MSTP program at Iowa is top-notch,” Gurnett says. “Kevin Campbell was instrumental in teaching me to love science. He taught us how to make connections, work as a team, and use all the talents of the people around us.”

Since leaving Iowa, Gurnett’s work has focused on the molecular and genetic basis of neurological and psychiatric diseases. She co-founded the Gurnett/Dobbs Lab at Washington University in St. Louis with her husband, fellow UI College of Medicine graduate, Matthew Dobbs, MD. The Gurnett/Dobbs Lab has been significantly influenced by the treatment of clubfoot by famed orthopedic physician Ignacio Ponseti, MD. Gurnett and Dobbs have identified a gene responsible for vertical talus as well as a gene implicated in clubfoot.

Gurnett actively seeks out practical applications for her work.

“I’m challenging myself to take what we are learning and turn it into policy. For example, we are finding an increased risk of birth defects as both the mother and the father age,” she says.  “It’s important to me that the work we do finds the right audience.”

The Gurnett/Dobbs Lab has a group of 10 researchers, fellows, students, and technicians. Gurnett enjoys working with these student scientists and credits another of her mentors, Katherine Matthews, MD, for helping her learn to teach others.

“Katherine encouraged me to enter the field of child neurology. I learned so much by watching how she interacted with patients and families, and her example helps me guide my own students,” Gurnett says.

She is committed to helping students succeed and has served as a HOST (Help Our Students Travel), by opening her home to Carver College of Medicine students who are interviewing for residency programs in St. Louis. She encourages students to have a team of mentors to provide perspectives and expertise on a variety of subjects.  

Matthews has high praise for her former student, saying, “Dr. Gurnett is an outstanding role model for University of Iowa medical students and residents. She has been successful at all aspects of academic medicine, and I am proud that we had a role in her development.”