Faculty Profile

Robert H. Mealey

Robert H. Mealey

Professor and Chair, Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology; Director, Animal Health Research Center

rmealey@wsu.edu
Phone: 509-335-6030

 

Positions

  • Professor and Chair, Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology
  • Director, Animal Health Research Center
  • Robert B. McEachern Distinguished Professor of Equine Medicine

Education and Training

  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, BS 1987 (Veterinary Science)
  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, DVM 1990 (Veterinary Medicine)
  • University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, MN, Internship 1991 (Large Animal Medicine)
  • Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, Residency 1995 (Equine Medicine)
  • Washington State University, Pullman, WA, PhD 2001 (Immunology and Infectious Disease)

Research Interests

As the current Chair of the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology, I am privileged to lead and work with an outstanding group of faculty, staff, and trainees who are deeply dedicated to our missions of infectious disease research that impacts both animal and human health, exemplary teaching in the professional DVM curriculum, graduate student and residency training, and world class diagnostic service. Although I serve this leadership role, I maintain my research interest in equine infectious diseases. Over the years my research has been directed towards understanding how the horse’s immune system controls persistent and vector-borne infections, including those caused by viruses, bacteria, and protozoan parasites. With support from the National Institutes of Health, USDA, Morris Animal Foundation, Grayson Jockey Club Research Foundation, and our Equine Infectious Disease Research Program (EQUID), we have focused primarily on equine infectious anemia virus (the cause of equine infectious anemia), Theileria equi, a protozoan parasite that causes equine piroplasmosis, and more recently, equine hepacivirus, a virus that infects the liver of horses and the closest known relative to the human hepatitis C virus. 

Theileria equi is an apicomplexan protozoan parasite that causes the disease equine piroplasmosis. T. equi is transmitted by ticks, and once in the horse, the parasite infects red blood cells resulting in their destruction. Infected horses can develop fever, lethargy, anorexia, anemia, and in severe cases, death. Importantly, horses are infected for life, and these persistently infected horses become reservoir sources of infection for other horses. The disease occurs worldwide and is endemic in tropical, subtropical, and some temperate regions. It is estimated that only 10% of the world's horses reside in regions free of the disease, which is reportable to the World Organization for Animal Health. The disease is currently not considered endemic in the U.S., and the goal for U.S. regulatory agencies is to avoid becoming an endemic region. As a result, movement of T. equi positive horses is restricted in the U.S. Horses testing positive are denied entrance into the U.S., and domestic horses that test positive must be quarantined for life, euthanized, or if applicable, exported back to the country of origin. The majority of our recent collaborative work has been devoted to evaluating strategies for treatment, clearance, and determination of transmission risk. Currently funded research is focused on identifying protective antibody responses and vaccine development, which could play an important role in future T. equi control strategies in the U.S. and worldwide.

Equine hepacivirus (EHCV) is a blood-born virus that infects the liver of horses. Importantly, it is the closest known relative to the human hepatitis C virus (HCV), also a member of the Hepacivirus genus. Because of the lack of other suitable animal models (HCV only infects humans and chimpanzees), EHCV in horses provides a very unique and useful translational large animal model for HCV. Our work is focused on further developing EHCV as a model, better understanding the pathogenesis in horses and its impact to equine health, and determining the correlates of protective immunity. Our goal is to identify the types of immune responses an effective vaccine would need to elicit, not only to protect horses, but to inform HCV vaccine design. 

Useful Links

Dr. Mealey is a founding director of the Equine Infectious Diseases Research Program (EQUID), and is the Robert B. McEachern Distinguished Professor of Equine Medicine.