Reporter Goes Inside Mayo Researcher’s Cabinet of Parasitic Wonders

Dr. Bobbi Pritt, a world-renowned researcher of diseases caused by parasites, has always been fascinated with parasites, especially ticks.Some of us have a hard time deciding what we want to be when we grow up. Bobbi Pritt, M.D., director of Mayo Clinic's Clinical Parasitology Laboratory in Rochester, never had that problem. “I definitely liked to go out and play in the dirt, and pull up worms and stuff,” Dr. Pritt recently told the Minneapolis Star Tribune of her childhood in Vermont. “I thought they were fascinating."

In the years since, that fascination has propelled Dr. Pritt to become "a world-renowned researcher of diseases caused by parasites." Especially ticks. “We can learn a lot from parasites,” she tells reporter Allie Shah, who couldn’t help noting the “giant plush-toy tick" that hangs from Dr. Pritt’s “high-powered” microscope in her lab at Mayo Clinic. “My primary goal in studying them is to learn how we can better diagnose parasitic infections and therefore improve patient lives.”

There's certainly no shortage of research subjects for Dr. Pritt and her team to study. Shah writes about Dr. Pritt’s “cabinet of wonders,” which houses "thousands of specimens" from which to choose. “We’re really lucky,” Dr. Pritt says of "the wide array" of specimens available to her and her team at Mayo Clinic. “It’s great for teaching.”

It's also great material for her blog, Creepy Dreadful Wonderful Parasites. And even for gift-giving, it seems. Shah notes that when Dr. Pritt's not working to unravel parasite-related mysteries, she shares her love for all things parasites by making parasite-themed gifts for family and friends. "Take, for instance, the parasite wall calendar," Shah writes, which features "close-up, artful images of lice, mites, bedbugs, ticks and tapeworms" collected by Dr. Pritt. There have also been “parasite-themed cell phone cases" decorated "with whimsical designs that come from her creepy-crawly slide collection," Shah writes.

As “unusual” as gifts like that may be, Dr. Pritt's husband, Alex Ball, tells Shah they perfectly sum up the intense passion Dr. Pritt has for her work. “You’d be surprised at how many people — once they know Bobbi and her work — say that’s fascinating," he says. "Then they’ll want to sit down with her and talk to her and ask her to explain it all.”

You can sit down and learn more about how Dr. Pritt’s passion for parasites is shaping her research (including her team’s discovery of "a new species” of Lyme disease bacteria) by clicking here.

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