Jessica Wong describes the work of veterinary pathologists as crime scene investigation but with less crime — and, at least in her case, more bacteria and ticks.
A doctoral student in the combined veterinary anatomic pathology residency and Ph.D. program in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology, Jessica is investigating Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease, in Dr. Troy Bankhead’s lab. Lyme disease, which is spread by ticks, is the most common human vector-borne disease in North America, yet little is known about its abilities to infect and persist in mammals.
“Veterinary pathologists specialize in disease diagnosis, drug discovery, and development and research,” she said. “I was really drawn to working with a pathogen that affects both humans and animals. By studying the genetic and molecular mechanisms of Borrelia burgdorferi infection, we hope to better understand how and when to enact therapeutic interventions and ultimately break that enzootic life cycle between ticks and mammals.”
When not in the research lab or performing diagnostic duties at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, the South Carolina native enjoys spending time with her husband and their 2-year-old daughter — who was born in Pullman — and 8-year-old border collie mix, Sgt. Pepper. They especially enjoy visiting the goats, sheep, and ducks at Sunnyside Park and hiking at Kamiak Butte.
Prior to moving to Pullman, Jessica graduated from Duke University with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in international studies. For a time she was a tour guide at the Duke Lemur Center, home to the largest and most diverse population of lemurs outside their native Madagascar. She also worked as a research technician at the Duke University Children's Hospital before completing a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at the University of Georgia.
When she concludes her studies at WSU, Jessica plans to continue her career as a veterinary pathologist.
“I would love to be a part of a team and collaborate with researchers to help design their animal experiments and perform the microscopic evaluation for their studies,” she said. “Although nothing beats diagnostics when it comes to solving a cool case."