Faculty Feature Tarin Bigley

Tarin Bigley, MD, PhD, was born in Arizona but grew up in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Bigley’s dad was an elementary school teacher, and his mom worked in childcare and retail. Growing up, when he wasn’t in school, he was playing sports, hanging out with friends roaming around town and even had a brief stint playing guitar in a punk band. His mom would often complain that he never stopped moving. Although sports were a major focus and he was a four-sport athlete throughout high school, his parents encouraged him to be creative and curious in school, and when he wasn’t getting in trouble for distracting other kids, he thoroughly enjoyed his classes. Science and math were his favorite subjects, and he took part in independent science studies and team math and science competitions.

Going into college, Bigley knew he wanted to study science but was also very focused on playing football. He would become a starter on the football team at Wisconsin Lutheran College by his sophomore year. Fortunately, he quickly realized that he would need to go pro in something other than football. He took part in a research study evaluating the impact of river disruption on the macroinvertebrate population. This introduction into research made him realize that he wanted to pursue science as a career. Due to a lack of research opportunities (and money), he transferred to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He continued his football career there and was hired as a technician working for Mark McBride, PhD. Bigley came up with ideas for independent projects and convinced McBride to let him start performing experiments in addition to his technician duties. McBride helped him attain an NSF grant for undergraduate research to pursue a project studying bacterial chemotaxis. He also took on a job as an undergraduate teaching assistant in microbiology. While this experience cemented his interest in research as a career, he also worked part time as a physical therapy aide, which provided his first exposure to the medical field.

After a lucky encounter with a mentor who informed Bigley that there existed a program to train physician scientists, he put together a few applications for MD/PhD programs. His girlfriend at the time, Julie, landed a great job in Milwaukee, so he decided to attend the Medical College of Wisconsin for his MD/PhD. This was a smart decision on many fronts, most importantly because soon after college they got married. Bigley stayed in the microbiology field but made the switch to studying virology in Scott Terhune’s lab. There, he studied herpesviruses, primarily cytomegalovirus and how it controls cell cycle and chromatinization to enhance replication and overcome antivirals. He also created a cell culture system of cytomegalovirus infection in developing neuronal cells to model congenital infection. Growing up, Bigley had limited exposure to science and medicine, so during graduate and medical school, he spent time volunteering in science outreach at community schools — something that made him realize how much he enjoyed working with the pediatric population.

He came to WashU/SLCH for a pediatric residency and the Physician Scientist Training Program. Although he wanted to continue studying virology, he became increasingly interested in immunology and autoimmunity. He, therefore, chose a pediatric rheumatology fellowship and joined Wayne Yokoyama’s lab. There, he continued studying herpesviruses, this time focusing on roseoloviruses. His found that neonatal infection with a roseoloviruses induced autoimmunity in adult mice after acute infection had resolved. He started as an assistant professor in the summer of 2022 and will continue to study how viruses disrupt immune regulation to induce autoimmunity.

Bigley enjoys spending time with his amazing wife and kids, Maribel (8) and Teo (6). They are frequently doing outdoor activities, which, of course, includes playing sports. Bigley has even had the privilege of coaching his kids and discovering the craziness that is St. Louis youth club soccer. In what little free time he has, he enjoys running with his dogs (Berto and Flora), biking and would love to get back into playing some kind of sport at some point.

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