Meet the researchers: Dr. Katrina Mealey

Katrina Mealey and Bumpus

Regents Professor Dr. Katrina Mealey’s tenure at Washington State University spans more than two decades in which she has established herself as a leader in veterinary pharmacogenetics and made countless contributions to veterinary medicine.

Her notable accomplishments include the discoveries of mutations in the MDR1 gene in dogs and cats that can lead to deadly reactions to common medications. She 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 as the director of the Program in Individualized Medicine (PrIMe) at WSU, she and her team are partnering with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and major pharmaceutical companies to add to that list.

Dr. Mealey is board-certified in veterinary clinical pharmacology and small animal internal medicine. She is also the director of Public Impact Initiatives and the Richard L. Ott Endowed Chair. She holds 10 patents and has co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications. 

What are your current research interests and what attracted you to those areas?

Veterinary pharmacology and precision/individualized medicine! I completed a degree in pharmacy before attending veterinary school, so I became aware of the relative depth of understanding of human versus veterinary pharmacology (or lack thereof in the latter relative to the former). I knew I had an “edge” over others in the field because of my background as a pharmacist so I ran with it and found that I really enjoyed the topic. As I met and collaborated with other veterinarians interested in pharmacology in the U.S. and internationally, it was obvious that I had chosen the right research niche.

When your academic career is over, what do you want to be remembered for? 

The “mother” of veterinary pharmacogenetics and individualized/precision medicine.

How has your research helped people and animals? 

Before my discoveries, there was no way to know which canine or feline patient would be at high risk for an adverse drug reaction from certain drugs. Now, with genetic testing, pet owners and veterinarians can determine which patients can receive the label dose of a drug and which patients need to have a substantially lower dose. These genetic discoveries along with the genetic testing I invented have saved lives and prevented serious adverse reactions, helping dogs and cats and helping their owners by decreasing the cost of their pet’s medical care.

What made you decide to pursue a career in research instead of working as a clinician in the hospital? When I started as an assistant professor 50% of my job description was working as an internal medicine specialist in the veterinary teaching hospital, with 25% research and 25% teaching responsibility. It was the observations of adverse drug reactions that drove my small research program. After my first discovery (MDR1 gene mutation in dogs and its link to adverse drug reactions) “went viral” I knew that I would have to expand my research efforts and in order to do that I had to cut my clinical time.

What motivates you outside of work? 

Family, friends and running. My husband is a veterinarian (boarded equine internal medicine specialist with a PhD in immunology) and my son just graduated with a PharmD so we all have shared interests and interesting conversations. Friends outside of the profession help keep my life balanced. And running is just part of who I am — I have run 14 marathons including Boston 2013.

Why have you chosen to stay at WSU?

About 10 years ago I was being recruited by another college of veterinary medicine but Dr. Bryan Slinker, the dean of WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine at the time, gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He allowed me to create the first Program in Individualized Medicine (PrIMe) for veterinary patients and recruit two new faculty into the program. PrIMe now consists of four faculty who have discoveries and inventions that have improved the understanding and treatment of many diseases of dogs and cats.