Katrina Mealey and Kathryn Meurs share the same initials, became friends while in graduate school at Texas A&M more than 15 years ago, serve as faculty with neighboring laboratories in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, and are both marketing genetic tests to save the lives of cats and dogs.
“We’re both pet owners and we both passionately care about saving animals and helping people avoid the grief of pet loss,” Meurs said.
Katrina Mealey and Kathryn Meurs (holding cat) with a couple of their pals from the vet clinic. (Photo by Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services)
“I feel that providing this service fills an important need in veterinary medicine,” Mealey agreed.
Home test kits
Mealey was the first to offer the do-it-yourself genetic test kit. In 2001, she discovered the genetic defect that made several breeds of herding dogs susceptible to certain classes of drugs prescribed for cancer, mange and diarrhea. She developed, and WSU patented, a simple test for that defect.
“I never wanted to run a business, but initially no company was willing to invest in this test,” Mealey said. “So we decided to do it ourselves. That was a good decision, and much better for the pet owners since we can help them with questions.”
Through her lab’s website at www.mdr1test.com, Mealey sells about 2,000 test kits annually. Most go to veterinarians or pet owners. Some are sold to dog breeders who want to breed out that genetic defect.
Sales provide about $35,000 annually to fund research in her lab, she said.
Research made real
Meurs researched susceptibility to the most common feline heart disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and discovered the genetic defect that triggers that disease in two cat breeds.
She adopted Mealey’s marketing model and, through her lab’s website at www.testyourcat.com, has sold about 5,000 test kits. Meurs’ customers generally are veterinarians and feline breeders hoping to eliminate the inherited disease.
The kits for both tests are similar — and simple. Customers receive instructions and nylon swabs to gather cells from inside their animals’ mouths. The swabs are returned to the WSU labs for analysis, and customers receive the results.
“We intentionally keep the price low to make the test accessible.” Meurs said. “We are not trying to make a profit; instead, we are trying to be helpful for the animals.”
“We get lots of thank-you letters and pictures of dogs,” Mealey said. “We really make a difference for people.”
“That feedback is very motivating for us,” said Meurs. “It is exactly why I work on this.”