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Dr Yasuko Rikihisa - International Prize in Canine Health

Dr Rikihisa

Dr Rikihisa has devoted her career to creating a better understanding of rickettsial conditions, a group of related diseases transmitted by ticks which affect humans and domestic animals, including dogs. Her work led directly to the development of the diagnostic tests used in veterinary practices around the world to identify dogs infected with one particular rickettsial, disease, Ehrlichiosis (also known as canine typhus). This is a debilitating and often fatal condition caused by a parasite that infects and survives within the white blood cells of its host.

In the 1980s Dr Rikihisa developed a method for growing the Ehrlichia organism in laboratory culture, a pre-requisite for carrying out research into how the parasite interacts with its host.  This development underpinned her later research into diagnostic methods which have allowed fast and accurate diagnosis at an earlier stage of the disease, improving the prospects for effective treatment and reducing the risk of the infection being passed on to other dogs.

Dr Rikihisa is a prolific author, responsible for 277 peer-reviewed papers in the scientific literature and 26 chapters in books and conference proceedings.  She has also been granted 18 patents in the US and abroad on the laboratory technologies developed through her work. In 2012 she was elected a member of the prestigious US National Academy of Science for her contributions in this area.

While much of her research is focussed on developing methods for controlling human diseases, canine health remains an important concern. The funding she will receive through this award will be used in studies which it is hoped will eventually lead to the introduction of the first vaccine treatment for canine ehrlichiosis.