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Two women from opposite sides of the country are key players in JAX—West's success. Pictured are Lori Petronis (left) and Shelly Meeusen, Ph.D. (right).

A tale of two coasts

by Tom Walsh / Photography by William Foster

Given the vast differences in their backgrounds, Shelly Meeusen, Ph.D., and Lori Petronis have virtually nothing in common.

Nonetheless, these two high-energy professional women recently proved themselves essential to improving and expanding The Jackson Laboratory's presence on the West Coast.

Meeusen and Petronis were instrumental in the yearlong process of relocating The Jackson Laboratory—West into an enlarged and newly remodeled facility in Sacramento, Calif. While Petronis orchestrated the physical relocation of mice and the teams of animal care technicians who support them into the larger facility, Meeusen helped smooth the transition of in vivo operations into new research space.

With no previous experience at JAX—West, Petronis arrived in early December and designed, led and participated in the team efforts that accomplished everything from unpacking truckloads of mouse cages and water bottles to cleaning and stocking new mouse colony production rooms.

Petronis' total immersion into the relocation effort meant leaving her husband, Chuck, and their 15-year-old son, Scott, behind in Maine after volunteering for a three-month tour of duty in California.

"I have been fortunate to work with some great mentors, and I wanted to give some of that back to others," she says, now back in Maine with her family. "The JAX—West project was one of the great opportunities I have been given. It is only once in a lifetime you can say you gave 100 percent and feel you have helped in making a difference."

As study director in In Vivo Research Services, Meeusen works with client collaborators in designing and directing research studies on therapeutic agents and analyzing data and reports. Throughout the transition to the new facility, she helped ensure that the move didn't disrupt the continuity of those research studies or jeopardize the quality of the data being collected for a growing array of In Vivo clients.

"I worked on customer relations and growing our client base," Meeusen says. "By offering new services and new disease models, we've been building a solid base of repeat customers for the larger facility."

Meeusen is among the JAX—West staffers who were inspired by Petronis' infectious, must-do attitude. "Lori ran circles around the rest of us in terms of the heavy lifting for the transition," she says.

The two women's selfless efforts in smoothing the transition didn't go unnoticed, or unappreciated, by The Jackson Laboratory's Senior Management Team.

"Lori is a natural leader and manager," says Charles Hewett, Ph.D., The Jackson Laboratory's vice president and chief operating officer. "She intuitively understands how to organize a team and motivate and coach people.

"Shelly," he says, "inspires customer confidence in JAX® Mice, Clinical & Research Services' ability to reliably carry out customer experiments. She is a versatile scientist and continual learner."

Petronis is from Maine, born in Bar Harbor and raised in nearby Ellsworth, where she graduated in 1987 from Ellsworth High School.

Meeusen was born in Milwaukee, but grew up in many places. Her father's academic and professional careers bounced their family back and forth between California and the Midwest. A self-described "bio-brat," she's a 2003 graduate of the University of California, Davis, where she earned a doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology.

In 2001, Petronis left a job waiting tables and began working for The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor as an animal care trainee, tending to the needs of colonies of laboratory mice. Eight years and countless promotions later, she was recently selected to lead the Laboratory's custom breeding operations on both coasts.

"This is bigger than anything I have ever thought I could be part of," she says. "I'm thankful every day to have been given the opportunity to say that I am part of the hope created by biomedical discovery."

In 2007, Meeusen left her job at the University of California, Davis Medical Center, where she studied stem cells linked to cerebral palsy, to sign on as associate study director for The Jackson Laboratory—West. Within a year she was promoted to study director in In Vivo Research Services.

"My role at JAX allows me to very directly make a significant impact on improving the quality of human life and human health," Meeusen says.

"Toward the end of graduate school, my best friend was diagnosed with end-stage colon cancer. It had spread through his liver and was inoperable. He was barely 30 when he died. He was a huge part of me, and that's when I really wanted to change direction and do work that would have a direct impact on human health."