EWU McNair Scholar Ashley Destin has had the opportunity to participate in two research projects during her time with McNair, both with Dr. Judd Case. While each research project was very different from the other, both align with Ashley’s passion for improving targeted care for cats. She notes that much of what we know about cats now comes from research done with other animals. Ashley’s mission is to shift the focus to the cats themselves, contributing to our understanding of cats and improving the ways we care for them.
For Ashley’s first research project Size Scaling in the Skull of North American Felids as Adaptations for Prey Acquisition, she and Dr. Case measured close to 50 felid skulls. Ashley worked with a local large cat rescue, Cat Tales Wildlife Center, and was able to include data on a mountain lion and an African lion. Despite some limitations on the project due to COVID-19, Ashley was proud to present research at multiple virtual conferences.
Ashley’s second research project with Dr. Case, Feline Red Blood Cell Shape and the Impacts of Cytauxzoonosis, was even more influenced by COVID-19. Initially, the plan was to research feline anemia, comparing humans and healthy cats. Unable to acquire the blood samples that they had lined up, the project changed significantly. What they did notice while looking into anemia was a variation in the blood cell shape within the felid family, which led them down an entirely different research path. While well-noted, the shape variation hasn’t been studied extensively. The rest of the project was spent looking at a parasite that uses these blood cells to proliferate and cause severe infection in domestic cats. COVID-19 protocols didn’t directly affect this phase of research, yet it’s the reason they ended up focused on this specific issue.
This research is ongoing, as Ashley and Dr. Case continue to look at other blood parasites to see if a trend appears. There is currently very little research into the blood cell shape variation and the possible impacts to cat care. Ashley is looking at taking this project to graduate school. Understanding the variation and its impacts has the potential to improve how we care for our cats.
Ashley has this advice for undergraduate researchers in her field:
Be flexible, but don’t give up on what you really want. Science is a big enough field that it’s possible to study what you want, it might just take some weaving to find your way there.