Faculty Profile

Robert H. Mealey

Robert H. Mealey

Professor and Chair


Office Phone: 509-335-6672


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)

Research Interests

Dr. Mealey is an equine internal medicine specialist and Professor of immunology and infectious diseases in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology in the College of Veterinary Medicine. He has devoted extensive research efforts to understand 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 private donations, Dr. Mealey and his research team have focused primarily on equine infectious anemia virus, the cause of equine infectious anemia, and more recently, Theileria equi, a protozoan parasite that is a cause of equine piroplasmosis.

Equine infectious anemia virus (EIAV) has a world-wide distribution, and horses that become infected with EIAV are infected for life. Most infected horses have recurrent episodes of clinical disease, but eventually control the infection to become lifelong inapparent carriers of the virus. Collaborative work has shown that virus-specific immune responses are responsible for controlling EIAV replication. Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL), which kill virus-infected cells, are a critical component of this virus-specific immune response, as are neutralizing antibodies. Our studies have focused on defining the correlates of CTL and neutralizing antibody-mediated protection against EIAV infection. Some of the objectives of ongoing work are to identify the viral proteins that must be recognized by protective CTL, as well as to determine the functional characteristics of protective CTL. Information gained thus far is being used to construct DNA and viral vector vaccines designed to induce EIAV-specific CTL in outbred horses. Ongoing studies also include determining the breadth and specificity of protective neutralizing antibody responses. Since EIAV is a lentivirus, similar to the human immunodeficiency virus, the results of these studies may also have implications for protecting people against AIDS.

Theileria equi (Babesia equi) is an apicomplexan protozoan parasite  that is a cause of 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 develop fever, lethargy, anorexia, anemia, and in severe cases, death. Importantly, surviving 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 the critical evaluation of strategies for treatment, clearance, and determination of transmission risk for horses involved in the current outbreak of equine piroplasmosis in the United States. Our work to identify a consistently effective therapeutic drug regimen for clearance of this parasite, along with planned work to identify mechanisms to overcome drug resistance, represent lines of research that will improve the welfare of horses in the U.S. and throughout the world. Currently funded research is also focused on dissecting antibody and cell-mediated immune responses in horses that have been cleared of T. equi infection and to determine if these responses can prevent re-infection and/or clinical disease. This information will be critical for the development of protective vaccines which could play an important role in future T. equi control strategies in the U.S. and worldwide.

Professional Memberships

American Veterinary Medical Association
American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
American Association of Equine Practitioners
American Society for Microbiology
American Association of Veterinary Immunologists 
American Association for the Advancement of Science

Useful Links

Dr. Mealey is a founding faculty member of the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Equine Infectious Diseases Research Program (EQUID).