Discoveries, innovations by WSU veterinarian saves countless animals

Dr. Katrina Mealey examining a Jack Russell Terrier.
Katrina Mealey and Bumpus

During her more than two decades at Washington State University, Regents Professor Dr. Katrina Mealey has become a pioneer in veterinary pharmacogenetics and made countless contributions to veterinary medicine, most notably the discovery of a mutation in the MDR1 gene in dogs and cats that can lead to deadly reactions to common medications.

The discoveries and the genetic tests she later developed to detect the mutation have saved the lives of an untold number of animals and spared pet owners from the anguish of losing their pets.

“The work we are doing here at WSU is saving the lives of cats and dogs,” Dr. Mealey said. “It is incredibly rewarding seeing that.”

Dr. Mealey was the first to develop a genetic test to identify animals with the mutation and to make it commercially available for pet owners and veterinarians. She also led the effort to identify drugs that are potentially dangerous to dogs and cats with the mutation, and today she and her team in the Program in Individualized Medicine (PrIMe) at WSU are partnering with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and major pharmaceutical companies to add to that list.

“This can be a life-or-death condition – if a dog or cat is incorrectly genotyped and treated with the one of the problem drugs, it can kill the animal,” Dr. Mealey said. “Pet owners should read the fine print before having their pet tested with just any company.  Many of them state that their results are not intended to be used as a basis to establish a diagnosis or treatment.”

After receiving the results of their MDR1 test, clients also have lifetime access to PrIMe’s online portal, where questions about the condition and medications can be submitted directly to staff and Dr. Mealey.

“I see those 24/7 and I respond to them,” Dr. Mealey said.

Many of the questions come directly from veterinarians. Dr. Mealey recently fielded a call from a veterinarian struggling to treat an Australian shepherd that was clinging to life after being given a medication known to cause adverse reactions in dogs with the MDR1 mutation. The pet’s owner had been told by the breeder the dog did not have the MDR1 mutation, but it had never been tested.

“The dog was practically in a coma, and I was able to tell him what drug to administer to counteract those the dog had already been given,” Dr. Mealey said. “Twenty minutes later he sent me a video of the dog trotting around. That is the kind of impact we can have, and that is very rewarding.”

Dr. Mealey is board-certified in veterinary clinical pharmacology and small animal internal medicine. She holds 10 patents and has co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications. While at WSU she has received countless awards and accolades, including most recently being elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for her contributions to veterinary pharmacogenetics.

She also launched the world’s first coordinated research effort in individualized veterinary medicine, establishing PrIMe at WSU. PrIMe employs a dedicated core faculty, technical staff and researchers that optimize drug therapy for individual patients.

“WSU has really embraced individualized medicine and pharmacogenetics,” Dr. Mealey said. “There is no other veterinary school in the world that has that much expertise in individualized medicine as there is at WSU.”