Julie Bubeck Wardenburg, MD, PhD
Division Chief - Critical Care Medicine
Julie Bubeck Wardenburg grew up in south suburban Chicago in a town called Country Club Hills, which had neither a country club or hills. As the daughter of a tool-and-die maker and the eldest of three girls, she learned all of the things that an oldest son would need to learn – lathe and milling machine operation, hanging wallpaper, laying flooring, splitting wood, repairing cars, home appliances, and other broken items, and delighting in a trip to the hardware store to find a new (and often non-essential) tool. Julie studied biology during her first two years of college before meeting her husband, Ross, and following him to St. Louis; this move kicked off her love for Washington University. Realizing that it was hard for a married couple to survive without a job between them, Julie began to work in a laboratory studying T cell signal transduction. This experience catalyzed her interest in bench research, and prompted her matriculation into the Washington University MD/PhD program.
As Julie completed her PhD in Immunology and returned to medical school coursework, pediatrics became a field of interest for the first time owing to the birth of Kate – Ross and Julie’s eldest child. (Documenting the passage of time, Kate is now a WashU undergrad.) Julie moved to Chicago, completed Pediatric residency at the University of Chicago and became interested in both S. aureus and critical care following a rotation in the Pediatric ICU. Realizing that the combination of critical care training and a post-doctoral fellowship would leave Julie close to 40 years old by the time that she finished ‘training’, the end of residency and the start of fellowship brought the births of 2 more children, Samuel and Gwen.
Julie chose to spend her ‘on call’ time in the hospital and the lab rather than warming bottles and changing diapers; a responsibility that Ross valiantly and lovingly took on at home. Julie began to study S. aureus in the laboratory of Dr. Olaf Schneewind, where she discovered the essential role of a bacterial toxin in the pathogenesis of lethal infection. This finding led to a broader focus of investigation within the laboratory to understand the precise mechanisms by which this toxin causes cellular and tissue injury and leads to host disease. Rather than be just a one-toxin gal, Julie developed an interest in the study of the B. fragilis toxin – a protein that bears an unexpected functional similarity to the S. aureus toxin. The investigation of these two toxins by the laboratory has provided a wealth of insight on the host-pathogen interface, defined new approaches to preventing disease, and has recently led to novel insights on how toxins may shape host immunity.