Welcome to the college, Dr. Korakrit Poonsuk

Dr. Korakrit Poonsuk outside on the WSU campus.

Dr. Korakrit Poonsuk is joining the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory as the new Immunodiagnostic section head and the department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology as an assistant professor. With a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and a Master of Science from Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, he also has a PhD in veterinary microbiology with a preventive medicine emphasis from Iowa State University and a postdoctoral degree from the Department of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine, ISU, where he was affectionately known as “Kong.” Korakrit brings years of experience to the table, having previously worked as a diagnostic technologist at the ISU-Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Serology Section, before he was a Virology and Serology Laboratory manager at the Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His research has focused on developing diagnostic tests, specifically in the realm of serology, for viral and bacterial diseases in livestock. In his free time, Korakrit enjoys biking and hiking, as well as indulging his culinary passions with baking and cooking.

Q: How did your career path lead you to WSU?

I have had a passion for diagnostic medicine since my veterinary college days. I enjoy the rigor of research and development of diagnostic methods to be used in veterinary medicine, as I believe that more of this information can help veterinarians and practitioners better manage animal health and welfare.

The Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is well-known for its expertise in veterinary diagnostic and test development, which provided me with invaluable experience and opportunities to advance my career in veterinary diagnostic medicine. I earned my PhD in veterinary microbiology with a preventive medicine emphasis, which demonstrated my intensive knowledge in epidemiology and diagnostic medicine in conjunction with preventive medicine. At the Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Center, I oversaw laboratory work, led a team of technicians and students, coordinated virology and serology/immunodiagnostic cases and testing, and collaborated with the quality assurance team to maintain accreditation requirements. Additionally, I earned board certification in Veterinary Microbiology from the American College of Veterinary Microbiologists.

Since 2011, my research focus has been diagnostic test development, particularly for viral diseases in livestock. By utilizing serology test development techniques, my research primarily centers on infectious diseases that are problematic in the commercial industry but also addressing the needs of veterinarians and practitioners who serve the local communities.

Q: What drew you to WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine?

I have been fortunate to have had many opportunities to advance my career in veterinary diagnostic medicine, but I knew the position of Immunodiagnostic section head at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (WADDL) was a one-of-a-kind opportunity. The Immunodiagnostic section is one of the busiest sections at WADDL, which presents numerous opportunities for me to grow and make significant contributions to the field of veterinary diagnostic medicine.

I chose to come to WADDL because of its broad reputation for quality, capacity and history, and I am honored to be able to use my expertise in diagnostic medicine to serve the organization. Together, with the WADDL team, I am excited to see what we can achieve. Go Cougs!

Q: What is your area of expertise?

My area of expertise is in veterinary microbiology, specifically in the field of diagnostic test development for infectious diseases in livestock. Over the course of my academic and professional career, I have gained extensive experience in developing and implementing serological and molecular assays for animal disease diagnosis.

As the Immunodiagnostic section head at WADDL, I am responsible for leading a team in the implementation of serological and molecular assays for animal disease diagnosis. I am excited to work with my team in developing new diagnostic tests that improve the efficiency and accuracy of animal disease diagnosis. My goal is to continue advancing the field of veterinary diagnostic medicine through the development of novel diagnostic tests and improving the understanding and management of infectious diseases in livestock.

Q: What drew you into this area of study?

My love for veterinary medicine runs deep, thanks to my dad, who taught at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine – the same school I earned my degrees. His dedication to helping veterinarians and livestock practitioners improve their animal welfare and production inspired me to pursue a career in this field.

While in veterinary college, my interest in diagnostic medicine grew exponentially. I “unintentionally” worked on a project to develop a test kit for pseudorabies virus, which is one of the most critical foreign animal diseases in swine. Seeing the significant impact diagnostic tests could have on controlling and preventing infectious diseases was truly eye-opening for me. As a result, I then pursued the MSc in veterinary pathobiology and worked at the university’s veterinary diagnostic laboratory.

My passion for diagnostic medicine only intensified during my PhD and postdoc time, and at the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. At ISU-VDL, I gained extensive experience in developing and implementing serology tests in veterinary diagnostic medicine, particularly in swine medicine. Collaborating with top experts in diagnostic medicine and test development significantly improved my skills.

Then, as the Virology Lab manager at the Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Center, I had the chance to continue my work in diagnostic test development and disease surveillance, and even explore molecular diagnostic approaches for emerging diseases. As a result of my time there, I’ve had more opportunities to work with a wide range of people with different perspectives on diagnostics – from state veterinarians and local practitioners to producers and animal owners. It’s been a fantastic learning experience and has given me a unique understanding of the diverse needs and concerns of people from different points of view. These experiences have fueled my passion for the veterinary diagnostic field and ultimately led me to pursue it. And I’m now here.

Q: What about your research work are you most excited for or proud of?

I absolutely love tackling research projects that are simple yet have a major impact! Sure, I’ve done some fancy studies to secure funding and earn my PhD, but the ones that bring me the most joy are the ones that make life easier for everyone involved. My ultimate goal is to make diagnostic medicine more accessible and efficient for veterinarians, practitioners and animal owners.

I like research that is simple enough that I can explain to friends without a scientific background, and they would get it and have some sense of what the project entails. There are a few of my most exciting, yet simple, projects. The first one involved developing ELISAs to detect porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) antibodies in meat juice samples. Yes, meat juice! As it is nearly impossible to collect blood samples from dead animals, there is no easy way to monitor antibody levels in non-living pigs, especially piglets. I got creative and used the transudate produced from meat as an alternative specimen. My study showed that the PEDV meat juice ELISAs worked wonders and the method I developed could be used to monitor PEDV in swine herds with ease – at slaughter or on the necropsy floor. Nothing is easier than cutting a piece of meat, right?

Next up was a project involving white-tailed deer and COVID-19. Given the risk of spillover from deer to humans, we needed to figure out how many deer had been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2. But, as you can imagine, collecting serum samples from live wild deer is no easy task and collecting blood from carcasses is not feasible because blood clots immediately after death. So, I came up with a new approach: extracting lymph node exudate for SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing. It allowed us to use lymph nodes from the Chronic Wasting Disease surveillance program for SARS-CoV-2 surveillance. This approach has been used for SARS-CoV-2 monitoring in deer population in Nebraska.

Last but not least, local veterinarians and practitioners in Nebraska asked me to come up with an easier way to diagnose Newcastle disease virus antibodies in backyard chicken. Blood sampling is a real hassle for chickens and their owners, so I had to get creative. That’s when I came up with a new idea: using egg yolks as an alternative specimen! It’s cheaper, less invasive, and a whole lot more practical for backyard chicken owners because they just need to collect an egg and ship it to the lab. The same approach has been applied to other chicken serology tests. Who knew that something as simple as an egg could be such a game-changer?

Q: What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I’m originally from Bangkok, Thailand, and as a child, I spent most of my time on the road trying to navigate the chaotic traffic in the city. It wasn’t exactly a fun childhood memory for me. That’s why I’m so grateful to be living in smaller communities, where I can enjoy driving without having to worry about getting stuck in endless traffic.

Speaking of Thailand, did you know that Thai people have some of the longest and most complicated names in the world? That’s why we often use nicknames to refer to one another. My nickname is “Kong”, which might remind you of the giant ape, King Kong! And no, I wasn’t nicknamed after the “Kong” dog toy brand either!

My PhD advisor in Thailand would introduce me as Kong, and the nickname stuck with me since even after I came to the US.