Faculty Feature: Jeff Bednarski, MD, PhD

Faculty Features

Jeff Bednarski came to Washington University in 2003 to start a Pediatric residency and then stayed on to complete fellowship training in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology.  When he first came to St. Louis, he had not imagined that he’d still be here!  Jeff grew up in Pennsylvania and then went to Duke University where he earned his undergraduate degree in Chemistry and became an avid Duke basketball fan.  From North Carolina, Jeff went to the University of Michigan and entered the MD/PhD program.  At Michigan, Jeff continued his studies in chemistry and developed a keen interest in Michigan football.

Jeff’s research interests are centered on the intersection of immunology and DNA repair.  His interests in immunology first developed during his graduate training at Michigan where he worked on novel small molecules for treating autoimmune diseases.  Based on this work, his mentor founded a start-up company that is now bringing these new treatments to patients.  During fellowship, Jeff studied the cellular programs that enforce normal development in immune cells and prevent transformation of these cells into leukemia.  In particular, he became interested in how immune cells handle breaks in their DNA.  These breaks are necessary intermediates for normal immune development but present a huge risk for developing errors in the genetic code that could lead to leukemia.  His work has shown that these DNA breaks trigger cell responses that are important for repairing the breaks and for signaling normal development.  In his own lab, Jeff has continued working on these questions.  He’s currently interested in understanding how cells decide when to repair the DNA breaks and continue developing versus when to abort the process and trigger cell death because the DNA damage is too much or poses to great of a risk.  Errors in these decisions can lead to leukemia so making the correct decision is essential to maintain normal immune development and prevent cancers.

Jeff’s clinical interests are in bone marrow transplantation and immunology.  He works closely with the immunology team and leads a program for stem cell transplantation for children born with primary immune deficiencies. Along with other immunologists and patients, Jeff participated in lobby efforts to the Missouri Legislature to add testing for immune deficiencies to the Missouri newborn screening program.  Jeff also works with Dr. Megan Cooper in Immunology and Rheumatology to lead a seminar series on Pediatric Translational Immunology that brings researchers and clinicians together to discuss challenging immunology cases.

When Jeff’s not in the lab or the hospital, he enjoys spending time with his wife, who teaches on the undergraduate campus at Washington University, and his two children, who are thirteen and eleven.  He spends his free time coaching soccer and attending swimming and gymnastics meets.  He also finds time for biking and an occasional round of golf.  There’s always time for Duke basketball and Michigan football!

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