Faculty Feature: Dustin Baldridge, MD, PhD

Faculty Features

Dustin’s parents hail from Arkansas, and his family moved to suburban St. Louis when he was one year old, so that his father could take a position as a computer programmer for the Missouri-Pacific railroad. Dustin is the second of five children, and here discloses the information required of him as a St. Louisan: He went to high school at Chaminade and lived in Crestwood / Sunset Hills. Dustin and his wife, Megan, now enjoy spending time at their Webster Groves home where they care for backyard chickens and assemble jigsaw puzzles.

In the summer of 1997, between Junior and Senior year of high school, Dustin got his first taste of biomedical research by working in the lab of Dr. Roberto Civitelli of the Bone and Mineral Division at Washington University, which was located in the now-demolished Yalem Research Building. The excitement of Sanger sequencing the mouse Connexin45 gene and designing a conditional knock-out mouse convinced him to pursue a career as a genetics researcher.

The highlight of Dustin’s undergrad experience at the University of Dallas was definitely spending a semester abroad in Rome, Italy. It was here that he developed his hobby for international travel, and taste for Italian food (Best Local Italian: Trattoria Marcella). This also led Dustin to defer his MD/PhD program admission to “take a year off” as a Fulbright Scholar, pursuing research at the University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain (and continuing to travel).

Next came a stint of 8 years in Houston, Texas, at Baylor College of Medicine, earning his MD and a PhD in Molecular and Human Genetics in the lab of Brendan Lee, where he used mouse models and candidate gene sequencing to study human skeletal dysplasias. Choosing to train there was fortuitous for many reasons, including meeting his very talented wife, Megan, who has recently started her own Baldridge research lab, jointly appointed in the Division of Infectious Diseases of the Department of Medicine and the Center for Genome Sciences.

In 2011, Dustin moved back to St. Louis to train in the Pediatrics residency program at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, joining a fantastic group of co-residents and benefiting from extraordinary faculty mentors, in both clinical and research capacities. He then completed a year as Chief Resident in 2014-2015, learning a bit of how a hospital runs from behind the scenes, and attempting to motivate residents by trial and error (mostly error…).

After reflecting on where his talents could be best put to use, Dustin decided to return to human genetics research full-time, this time as a post-doc under the guidance of John Constantino in Child Psychiatry. With the support of the Wash U Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC), Dustin helped establish a genetic testing pipeline, such that all children diagnosed with autism now receive a chromosomal microarray and clinical exome sequencing with no out-of-pocket cost to the family. Through this work and efforts of the Undiagnosed Mendelian Disorders research project in the Division of Genetics and Genomics, Dustin is convinced that applying the hammer of exome sequencing to the nail of genetic disease serves as an engine of discovery and is steadily transforming healthcare towards a genetics-first approach.

As an Instructor in the Division of Newborn Medicine, Dustin works with the Cole-Wambach lab on the Genomics of Birth Defects project, which aims to use whole genome sequencing and RNAseq to further increase the diagnostic yield. He has now set his sights on solving the problem of Variants of Uncertain Sequencing (VUS), and is enthusiastic about the power of functional genomics and deep mutational scanning to provide new insights into biology and disease. Because he is always in need of more training, Dustin will be pursuing a Masters in Biomedical Informatics at the new Wash U Institute for Informatics. He could not be more excited about the prospects of advancing genomic medicine here at Wash U!

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