It’s not unusual that, as a caregiver, Dr. Jennie Criley likes to talk to her patients. What’s unusual is that those patients are mice.
“I think my staff finds that amusing,” says Criley.
She joined OMRF in 2019 as the foundation’s director of comparative medicine and attending veterinarian. In that role, Criley is responsible for the care of all of the foundation’s experimental animals. By her count, that includes roughly 10 rats, 150 frogs and 20,000 tiny zebrafish.
However, she and her staff spend most of their time ministering to the animals involved in the bulk of OMRF’s experiments: mice. At any given time, she estimates that’s about 25,000 mice.
When a young Criley set her sights on becoming a veterinarian, she had no idea the world of laboratory research existed – or that she’d become a vital part of it. “But if you’d told me I’d be taking care of dolphins, I would have bought that!” she says.
After graduating from veterinary school, she completed a residency and postdoctoral fellowship in laboratory animal medicine, then embarked on a career as a lab animal vet. The work, she says, suits her. “I like the problem-solving, and I like being exposed to the cutting-edge research.”
Criley came to OMRF from the University of Illinois, where, says the university’s Executive Vice Chancellor for Research Dr. Lyndon Goodly, she was “a rock star. She has a gift for balancing the needs of the animals and the needs of the researchers.” He credits her with helping to rebuild the university’s animal care program and establishing a facility where scientists could do mouse experiments in a germ-free environment.
It turned out OMRF had just established a similar germ-free mouse facility, and that proved key in recruiting Criley to Oklahoma. “It’s a fascinating research tool,” she says.
Dr. Matlock Jeffries, an OMRF investigator who uses the facility to study osteoarthritis, says that “we couldn’t do what we do without Jennie. I can come to her with an idea, and it’s not just, ‘Yes, we can do this, or, no, we can’t do that.’ It’s, ‘Here’s how we can make it better.’”
At OMRF, Criley says she’s found a Goldilocks-like fit. “It’s big enough to have all this exciting research, but not so big that you get lost in the fray.”
Outside work, Criley and her husband, Tom, dote on their dogs, Tony and Noah. “Tony is a sweet, sweet boy who never does anything wrong,” Criley says, “and Noah is a naughty, lovable imp.” They’re currently training the pair, both retired show dogs, for agility competitions.
With tens of thousands of mice to look after, the time has long passed since Criley individually named the little creatures in her care. Still, if there’s any doubt about her feelings for her whiskered charges, look no further than the sign on her office door. It reads, “I ❤️ Mice.”
Read more from the Summer/Fall 2022 issue of Findings
Voices: Dr. Padmaja Mehta-D’souza
Ask Dr. McEver: Coffee Conundrum
Legacy of Giving
Predicting MS Relapses
The Puzzle of Covid and Autoimmunity
Changing the Complexion of Science