TVMF Research Scholars Shine Thanks to Generous Donors

Participating in veterinary student research can chart a student’s future career and success. For Kelsey O’Hara, Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (TAMU-VMBS) Class of 2026, conducting research has not only furthered her skills and passion for reptile veterinary medicine but also furthered research on reptiles industry-wide. 

As a 2023 Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation (TVMF) Research Scholar and participant in the Veterinary Medical Scientist Research Training Program, Kelsey investigated the prevalence of the protozoan parasites Cryptosporidiumand Giardia in wild-caught and captive-bred Texas snakes throughout the summer. Mentored by a veterinary school faculty member, Kelsey conducted an incredibly sophisticated study on the animals she loves most—snakes.

“I collected excreta samples from snakes at expositions, pet stores and from private collections,” she said. “First, I used an immunofluorescent assay (IFA) to identify what sample had Cryptosporidium or Giardiaoocysts or cysts, respectively. Then I performed a nested PCR to amplify DNA from the positive samples, which was then purified and sent to a lab for sequencing and phylogenetic analysis.”

Kelsey’s findings are important for the future of pet reptiles and have implications on a collection’s overall hygiene and health. 

“What I found was an increased prevalence of Cryptosporidium oocysts in wild-caught snakes versus captive-bred snakes,” she said. “Additionally, only one Giardia cyst was identified via IFA but could not be sequenced via PCR. The species of Cryptosporidium identified were C. varaniiC. muris and C. tyzzeriC. varaniirepresents a true infection in the snake and is significant as it causes pathologic changes in snakes as well as lizards and heightens the concerns for cross-species transmission within a collection. C. tyzzeri and C. murisrepresent zoonotic risks to immunocompromised individuals.”

Owning reptiles as pets remains an ever-growing trend. This is increasingly coupled with the importation of wild animals into the pet trade. Kelsey’s research has highlighted the risks of zoonotic disease transmission.

“Precautions such as good hand-hygiene, quarantining and separate cages for all reptiles within a collection should be practiced to avoid transmission,” Kelsey said. “Cryptosporidiosis from C. varanii and C. serpentis areincurable, can cause severe disease and can be fatal in snakes and lizards.”

Proper care of reptiles is a critical responsibility to ensure the health and well-being of the handler and reptile collections. TVMF, a nonprofit dedicated to the field of veterinary medicine, is proud to support students like Kelsey as they further their skills and enhance the industry so early in their careers.

“I would like to thank the TVMF for their support of my project and for allowing me to present my work on this project at the TVMA Board of Directors meeting,” Kelsey said. “I always appreciate the opportunity to share my love for and knowledge of reptiles in such a positive light. Reptiles make wonderful pets and deserve the same care we give to our furry friends.”

Support scholars like Kelsey and the future of our profession by giving to the Foundation today at