PULLMAN – What began as a curious observation has grown into a test kit for a genetic mutation that saves dogs’ lives and has surpassed $1 million in sales.
Katrina Mealey, a pharmacologist and internal medicine specialist, heads WSU’s veterinary clinical pharmacology laboratory in the College of Veterinary Medicine. She discovered a gene mutation that renders some dogs susceptible to the toxic effects of certain drugs such as ivermectin used to control parasites, loperamide (brand name Imodium), and some anti-cancer drugs.
She also developed a clinical test for the mutation. It recently was featured in a segment on ABC’s Good Morning America program as one of the nation’s 10 best new pet products and saw a resulting sales boost.
“I’m really not as concerned about the funds the test has generated,” Mealey said. “I am more concerned with the number of dogs we have saved from grave illness or death. To date we have tested more than 20,000 dogs (including initial free testing) in a nonprofit, fee-for-services design.
“The revenue returned supports at least two households by employment for a full-time technician and a half-time administrative assistant, and two to three students at any given time,” she said.
Mealey explained the value of a negative test, meaning the dog does not have the mutation.
“By determining that a dog does not have the mutation, we know then that they can be treated with full doses of drugs, so those dogs have had successful treatment for mange and cancer.”
Revenue generated from the MDR1 test also has supported studies looking at a cause of blindness in cats triggered by certain antibiotics; it also can occur in humans undergoing chemotherapy.
MDR1 testing revenue also is supporting development of another clinical test for a condition of the liver and gall bladder.
Originally, the condition was known and accepted among some people who owned herding breed dogs such as shepherds and collies. Mealey decided to find out why it occurred, and several years ago she discovered a mutation in the multi-drug resistance or MDR1 gene. The gene normally is responsible for coding for a key glycoprotein known as P-glycoprotein.
P-glycoprotein is responsible for pumping many drugs and other toxins out of the brain. Dogs with the mutant gene, however, cannot pump out some drugs, which may result in abnormal neurologic signs. The result may be an illness requiring an extended hospital stay or even death.
Shortly after the discovery, Mealey and her laboratory developed a practical, clinical test for the mutation and subsequent drug sensitivity. It was patented by the WSU Research Foundation and licensed back to the university to provide dog owners with the testing service.
Last week, the lab surpassed the $1 million in sales mark. The test is licensed in Australia and Europe.
“Hitting this milestone for the test developed by Dr. Mealey and made available with the help of the WSU Research Foundation is a great reminder of the power of public research universities to discover new knowledge and apply that knowledge to benefit society,” said Dean Bryan Slinker. “She deserves credit for taking her curiosity and remarkable expertise forward and developing an important clinical test that supports itself and serves the public.”
For either a blood sample or cheek swab the cost is $70 per test for 1-4 tests included in a single shipment. Five or more tests are $60 each if included in a single shipment. For complete information on testing for the MDR1 gene mutation, see http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/depts-VCPL/index.aspx.

See an earlier WSU Today article here.