A Dentist with an Interest Beyond Teeth

Nov 04, 2020
For Katalina Cruz, working as a human dentist would not have allowed her to find new ways of addressing and solving neglected tropical diseases’ common problems such as sensitive diagnostics.

“Working in a community dental practice where 80% of my patients were war refugees and minorities of all walks of life, and after being involved with a multi-national nonprofit at the management level, I realized that there was more to life than a high-paying job and curing disease systematically. I was curious and passionate to find new ways to tackle wicked problems and neglected diseases, such as the Neglected Tropical Diseases diagnostics through a One Health approach.”

The 2004 dental school graduate left her career in dentistry to develop a salivary immunodiagnostic method for the detection of zoonotic parasites. Katalina moved to the island of St. Kitts with her family to pursue Ross Vet’s MSc in One Health program and is now completing  Ross Vet’s Ph.D. by Research dual degree in partnership with the University of Granada and the University of Valencia in Spain.

Katalina Cruz


No experience is ever wasted

Her expertise in dental medicine has allowed her to excel in her studies (she graduated with distinction in her MSc One Health program) and use saliva samples to study alternative diagnostic methods for the zoonotic parasite, Trichuris trichiura that affects 500 million children of school age worldwide, especially those in underserved areas.  Katalina’s Ph.D. by Research includes advance training in classical and molecular parasitology of nonhuman primates with a focus in immunoproteomics and a plethora of bioinformatic analysis.

“I went into research to find answers about problems that had no answer. Although I found evidence-based answers, I learned as much about myself as my research topic. I realized that the Ph.D. is an intricate journey to self-discovery, and I am honored to be so close and to be a part of the elite Ph.D. community in the world. I was already a “Doctor” so I did not do it for the title, I did it because with a Ph.D. behind my last name I can help more people. With my Ph.D., I laid out the baseline work to develop a Salivary Diagnostic test in the nonhuman primate model that we will translate to humans in the future. In terms of outcomes, so far, we have two manuscripts where I am a coauthor, two manuscripts that I submitted as the first author, one intramural grant, three scholarships awards, two active Memorandum of Understanding agreements with our collaborators in Spain and five international poster presentations”.

This Costa Rica native is in the final phase of her writing her thesis and she has transitioned to a full-time position as a Research Scientist with the St. Kitts Biomedical Research Foundation and Virscio. The St. Kitts Biomedical Research Foundation and translational research affiliate Virscio, Inc. are an AAALAC-accredited  biomedical research facility for integrated preclinical research and development with a multidisciplinary nonhuman primate focus. 

As a Research Scientist at Virscio, Katalina is excited to apply what she learned from her Ph.D. at a much larger scale and in a wide variety of topics.

This journey would not have been possible without the support of Katalina’s husband and daughter and the built-in support systems at Ross Vet and the Spanish Universities.

“I am a connector -the relationships I have forged at Ross Vet and the two universities in Spain are my proudest accomplishments. From the wonderful facilities keepers led by Ms. Anette Bogle-Jacobs to Dean Callanan at Ross Vet and every person in between. The same in Spain. I am also extremely proud of the relationship I have forged with my main supervisors and chair Drs. Patrick Kelly, Michel Vandenplas and Felix Toka for Ross Vet, Dr. Maria Trelis in University of Valencia and Dr. Antonio Osuna in University of Granada. They have allowed me to be myself during my Ph.D. journey and made sure my needs were met in a timely manner.”

Learn more of Katalina’s research work here.

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