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NIH Record Retirees

NIDDK Veterinarian Baas Retires

By Jane DeMouy

You might say Dr. Erv Baas never met an animal he didn't like, and during his 40-year career, the native Iowan has encountered quite a few. After studying veterinary medicine on the GI Bill, he began his professional life as a farm veterinarian in the Midwest. A "house call" usually meant a long drive to a barnyard where Baas was often expected to rope a cow before he could examine her. The fee was $10.

He learned to rope from a Montana cowboy, he says, and has kept his first lariat in his office all these years. "It was nearly broken in two, but I hung it on the wall to remind me that there were days that were worse than the present one," he laughs.

Dr. Erv Baas

Arriving at NIH as a senior animal diseases investigator for the Veterinary Resources Program (VRP) in the early 1970's, he quickly took on a dual role as chief of the carnivore unit in Poolesville and chief of the Animal Center Diagnostic Laboratory in the VRP. In 1984, Baas became the first veterinarian and animal program director for NIDDK (then NIAMDD), providing scientific support for 175 intramural scientists.

In this role he faced a challenge beyond roping beef cattle. Then NIH director Dr. James B. Wyngaarden called on all NIH institutes to strive for certification by the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC), an independent group providing peer review of laboratory animal care and use programs. At the time, says Baas, animals were not kept in central facilities, and older NIH lab buildings required renovations to accommodate AAALAC standards for animal housing, cleanliness and support. In many instances, new facilities had to be built.

"This was a new approach to animal care," says Sam Cushman, who, as chair of NIDDK's animal care and use committee, worked closely with Baas during the development of an AAALAC-certified program. "It was a creative and progressive effort to champion AAALAC standards, develop appropriate facilities, and educate investigators to the value of the program."

Baas saw to the establishment of NIDDK's animal care facility, beginning with the renovation of Bldg. 8 and assisted several NIH committees in establishing pathogen-free central facilities. Not only were specific space and hygiene for the animals required, but human access to the animals had to be controlled to limit the pathogens they were exposed to. Animals needed to be routinely checked for signs of ill health, twice a day. "These measures protect against transmittal of animal disease to humans and vice versa," says Baas; the bonus is that they also improve the quality and reliability of research. "Erv leaves NIDDK a fine legacy," Cushman adds.

NIH received AAALAC certification in 1993. Baas claims he doesn't know "if it was foresight or serendipity that made Wyngaarden seek AAALAC accreditation," when he did, but it has been a boon for NIH as highly valuable transgenic mice have become the research animal of choice in recent years.

"I came from an era when veterinarians were viewed as enforcers of rules and regulations. Now they're seen as part of the research team," Baas adds, noting how rewarding it has been for him to support NIDDK scientists Marc Reitman and Chuxia Deng in their research with complex transgenic and knockout mice.

At the end of almost 30 years at NIH, Baas says that originally he had never intended to stay in a large metropolitan area on the East Coast. So now he and his wife, Marilyn, are moving south to Richmond. Baas will be a part-time clinician in the animal resources division of the Medical School of Virginia at Virginia Commonwealth University. He also plans to polish his fly-fishing technique in Richmond streams.

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