Diggs New Chief of Lab Animal Care

After a Decade of Work, Roy Henrickson's Accreditation Goal Is Accomplished

by Robert Sanders

After 11 years as director of the Office of Laboratory Animal Care, where he shepherded the campus through a top-to-bottom reorganization of animal care between bouts with angry animal rights activists, Roy Henrickson is stepping down.

He leaves with a sigh of relief but also enthusiasm for the person taking up the reins--veterinarian Helen Diggs.

"Her strengths and interests are a good match with what the campus needs," Henrickson said. "She'll be good for Berkeley, we're lucky to get her."

Diggs, 39, has a broad range of experience in laboratory animal care. She comes to Berkeley from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, were she worked for a year as associate director for veterinary care.

Before that she served for seven years as head veterinary medical officer at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, while holding a position as assistant professor of animal care at the Oregon Health Sciences University.

Her teaching experience fits well with plans to inaugurate new courses in animal care for graduate students and researchers, Henrickson said. She also brings extensive experience with transgenic animals--primarily mice that have had foreign genes inserted into them--at a time when the use of transgenic mice is increasing on campus.

Diggs grew up in Spokane, Wash., and got her BA from the University of Portland in 1977. At the time she seemed destined for a teaching career. Her undergraduate degree was in elementary and secondary education, and after a further year to obtain her MEd she headed for adventure in the barren tundra of Alaska to teach Inupiat Eskimos.

"I had always wanted to be a veterinarian, but I had had enough of school by then," she said in an interview in her office last month, two weeks after moving in.

After a year teaching seventh and eighth graders at Point Hope--a community of 450 people with few amenities and no running water--she moved to the big city: Barrow. The northernmost city in the U.S., Barrow at the time was home to nearly 2,000 people.

Her two years in Alaska gave her time to think about her life and to save money so that by 1981 she was mentally and financially prepared to enter veterinary school. She obtained her DVM from the University of Oregon, Corvallis, in 1985, and is licensed in both Oregon and Washington as a laboratory animal care veterinarian.

Lab animal care is an interesting amalgam of many fields of veterinary science, Diggs said. During her first job as a clinical veterinarian at the Oregon Health Sciences University, she supervised surgery on pigs undergoing experimental liver transplant operations and sheep undergoing experimental fetal surgery. Work like that led to the first successful human liver transplants and fetal surgeries, procedures that to date have saved the lives of many adults and premature infants.

Yet the majority of her charges have been mice and rats, which comprise about 97 percent of all lab animals. They need as much attention as the larger animals, she said.

"Many of these animals may have human diseases like diabetes, tuberculosis or Alzheimer's disease, which not only need special attention but could also put the veterinarian, caretaker and research staff at some health risk. My goal as a veterinarian is to humanely care for every animal in the facility. Any of these animals could potentially be crucial in the development of a cure for a serious disease, such as cancer or malaria."

Despite her fondness for rodents--her favorite animal, she admits, is the rat--at home she limits her pets to two cats, one dog--a Blue Heeler that likes to herd her two daughters about the house--plus a parakeet and a cockatiel. She and her husband, Richard, an artist, have just found a home in San Ramon where they hope to raise their children and pets.

"This was a wonderful opportunity," she said about coming to Berkeley. "It will be fun getting to know the great faculty and staff here."

Diggs knows full well Berkeley's history of clashes with animal rights protesters and is committed to being open about her operation. But she is firm about the need for animal research today.

"When you have to hold down a child with juvenile diabetes and inject her with insulin, you really hope there is someone out there studying this disease in animals, looking for a cure."

As for Henrickson, who just turned 60, future plans include consulting but also "traveling and lots of fun." He just bought a four-wheel drive vehicle and took off in November with his wife and son for a brief tour of the West. A long-planned trip to Australia beckons.

Though he formally retired through VERIP two years ago, he stayed on half-time, often working 40-hour weeks and more, to achieve the goal he set himself when he arrived in 1984--to obtain for the campus the national seal of approval for animal care, accreditation by the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.

That accreditation came in October 1994 after a decade of planning and fund raising, development of a centralized program for administering animal care and use, construction of two new research buildings and renovation of a third, and the consolidation of all animals into these three new facilities. He loved the challenges, though, and appreciated the support of the administration and faculty in formulating plans to improve animal care on campus, he said.

"My years here were a wonderful experience. I couldn't have asked for a better way to cap my career."


Copyright 1995, The Regents of the University of California.
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