From veterinary student to research scientist

Cameron Mandel (center), a graduate student in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s immunology and infectious diseases program, stands with lab manager Hong Yang (left) and Dr. Anders Omsland (right).

Chlamydia wasn’t on Cameron Mandel’s (’17 DVM, ’22 PhD) mind when he arrived at Washington State University to begin the veterinary program nearly a decade ago – but, for the past five years, the bacteria have consumed his life.

After earning his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Mandel jumped at the unique opportunity to remain on campus and enter the College of Veterinary Medicine’s immunology and infectious diseases program in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology and the Paul G. Allen School for Global Health. There, he trained under Professor Anders Omsland, whose lab focuses on bacterial obligate intracellular parasites, or bacteria like Anaplasma, Rickettsia, Coxiella and Chlamydia that cannot reproduce outside their host cell.

Mandel defended his doctoral thesis in July after dedicating his research to exploring how Chlamydia trachomatis transitions between its infectious and replicative forms.

“The work that we are conducting to try to identify the genes that are associated with that transition is helpful in the larger scheme because we want to know what the genetic markers and contributors are to that change,” he said. “If we can identify what mediates that transition, then it has a long-term effect on understanding how Chlamydia generates infectious progeny.”

Omsland’s lab is housed in the 62,000-square-foot Allen Center, home to some of the most advanced research into infectious disease, antimicrobial resistance, rabies control and prevention, and zoonotic disease. In addition to having state-of-the-art facilities and technology, researchers in the Allen School and throughout the College of Veterinary Medicine are well funded, as the college ranks among the top in research spending and funding among veterinary colleges, according to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges

“I have been fortunate that my lab has had good funding – I have always had opportunities to do experiments if I wanted to do them,” Mandel said. “If I could justify experiments to Dr. Omsland, he would say go ahead and do it.”

Mandel was introduced to Omsland as a veterinary student when he accepted a three-month-long research fellowship under the professor on a project involving Coxiella.

“I liked what I saw; I liked working with Dr. Omsland; and I liked infectious disease work,” he said. “I was very pulled to it even before my fellowship, but after, it really sealed the deal.”

Mandel said he has appreciated Omsland’s mentorship and easy-to-approach nature.

“If I ever have a question, I don’t ever feel like I can’t go and knock on his door,” Mandel said. “He will just drop everything to help, and it is that kind of attitude that really facilitates good students.”

For those considering pursuing a graduate degree, Mandel said Pullman – with its low cost of living, easy commutes and limited distractions – and the College of Veterinary Medicine should be atop the list of options.

“There are so many different areas of research into infectious disease going on in the Allen School, and there are a number of different opportunities in the College of Veterinary Medicine for whatever biology you want to pursue. There is also the connection with the veterinary school, which is unique,” he said. “If you are serious about being a research scientist and moving forward with a PhD, you want to set yourself up where the research is good, which at WSU it is.”

Mandel will be moving with his long-term girlfriend to California, where he hopes to find a position in biotechnology and eventually get licensed to practice veterinary medicine in the state.

“In 10 years,” Mandel said, “hopefully, I will be a boarded veterinarian working as a senior scientist for one of these biotech companies.”