I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce the Perlstein Lab scientists, in their own words.
First up is Nina DiPrimio, Employee #1 at Perlstein Lab. I first met Nina last year at local DIY Bio meetups. When I started fundraising for Perlstein Lab earlier this year I spoke at an event in January hosted by Ryan Bethencourt at Berkeley BioLabs. Nina was there and she and I chatted after the event. She expressed interest in the lab, and the rest is history.
I first became interested in rare disease research during my graduate training in gene therapy. Specifically, I engineered adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors for enhanced gene delivery, while simultaneously learning about AAV assembly and trafficking. I was fortunate during my training to mentor a few students, which piqued my interest in science education. Post graduate school I took a position as teaching faculty at Carnegie Mellon to instruct molecular biology and cell and developmental biology laboratory courses. While I loved teaching, I missed being at the bench.
I received my postdoctoral training in synthetic biology, which technique-wise is similar to gene therapy, just with different vectors and hosts. In my postdoc I engineered large biosensor libraries for the detection of natural and unnatural small molecules. We isolated functional biosensors via an E. coli in vivo two-hybrid selection system. Additionally, I engineered E.coli to biosynthesize small molecules. However, I was yearning to be back in a therapeutic domain and therefore sought out this amazing opportunity to develop high-throughput screens for orphan disease drug discovery.
Education remains an important component of my career. Therefore, Mike Loukides and I started BioCoder, a quarterly synthetic biology and accessible biology related magazine published by O’Reilly Media.
I am a molecular biologist, a gene therapy enthusiast, a virus lover, an editor, and an educator, hoping to help discover treatments and spread the word!
Next up is Kiran Singh, Employee #2 and the youngest member of the core team. I was introduced to Kiran through a mutual friend in the SF biotech scene, Molly Maloof.
My name is Kiran; I’m a biochemist, programmer, and serious coffee addict. I finished my undergrad at UCSC in June of 2013 and after working for a short stint at a biotech start up in Menlo Park, came to work here at Perlstein Lab. During my undergrad I did a summer internship in Genentech’s Discovery Oncology Department in Richard Neve’s lab.
What drew me to working here at Perlstein Lab was Ethan’s propensity to take risks. I was surprised by the lack of risk taking in biotech right now, particularly in early stage R&D. I’ve come to find people more and more are chasing leads and designing platforms that aren’t new or innovating, but merely a slight tweak on what was done in the past. The platform and business model here at Perlstein Lab is a fundamental shift away from your grandpa’s traditional biotech start up.
I currently am a research associate at Perlstein Lab, working on some of my own projects, and helping where I can with everyone else’s. It’s an exciting, interesting place to begin my scientific career.
Employee #3 at Perlstein Lab is Tom Hartl. Tom was a postdoc in Prof Matthew Scott’s lab at Stanford. I was introduced to Tom by Prof Scott. How? I emailed half a dozen Bay Area fly lab heads asking if one of their trainees was interested in working on orphan disease puzzles, and Scott was the only professor who came back to me with a name.
I have a strong background in the analysis of genetic disorders and birth defects, yet not in humans. Nope, I’m a molecular geneticist having used the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, to understand fundamental aspects of cell biology that pertain to human health. Whether they be yeast cells, fly cells, or human cells, much of how each of these species’ cells stay alive and healthy is identical. This is why organisms like C. elegans (worms), Drosophila (flies), and S. cerevisiae (yeast), which can be rapidly and inexpensively experimented upon, have led to so many important discoveries that guided therapy creation for humans.
At Perlstein Lab, we are using reliable genetic methods to create worms, flies, yeast, and fish that carry genetic anomalies matching those of patients with an orphan disease. When we find a pharmacological therapy that will revert, for example, a fly’s and worm’s disease, we will have a very strong drug candidate to treat the human disease. Our approach is rapid and cost effective, and it will create therapies for patients in need. This is a tried-and-true approach. Hundreds of researchers like myself have been doing similar experiments with these simpler organisms for decades, but not at the scale we will implement and not targeting orphan diseases.
My skill set makes me remarkably suited to go after orphan diseases. I have over a decade of high level expertise in molecular genetics and carried out my postdoctoral training at the Stanford University lab that created the first fly carrying a mutation in the Niemann-Pick Type C gene npc1.I’ve spent countless hours reading and writing about, and experimenting upon, a myriad of biological puzzles. I’m lucky that I can make a living carrying out my passion in solving mysteries behind cellular disease states that will improve the quality of life for orphan disease patients.
And rounding out the core team is Sangeetha Iyer, aka Employee #4. Sangeetha responded to the free ad I posted on Nature Jobs. She was one out of close to a hundred applicants who sent me their CV. Sangeetha’s rose to the top, in part because of her experience working with worms as a model for drug discovery.
I am a Scientist with over 7 years of experience in the development of invertebrate and vertebrate animal model systems for human diseases, assay development, rapid drug screening paradigms and discovery of novel modulators. I am particularly interested in neurological disorders that have their origin in genetic mutations.
I received my Ph.D. in Molecular Pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh in the lab of Dr. Gregg E. Homanics. I started my graduate career generating and studying genetically engineered mice that bore differential sensitivity to alcohol and anesthetic effects. In studying these animals, I discovered that low and high doses of a synthetic neurosteroid modulator depended on different neuronal receptor subtypes to exert its effects. I also discovered that point mutations can be more deleterious than expected but that’s another story altogether.
After my Ph.D., I moved to Austin, Texas to work on my postdoctoral research. In the lab of Dr. John Mihic, I learnt to use phage display to identify small specific peptide modulators of ion channels. Initially relying only on electrophysiology to characterize functional effects of peptides on ion channels expressed in Xenopus oocytes and HEK cells, I eventually started looking at simple model systems to study peptide effects. Thus began my affair with C. elegans.
I started working with C. elegans in the lab of Dr. Jon Pierce-Shimomura to characterize effects of select peptides. I learned quickly that worms were very amenable to genetic manipulation and drug screening studies, provided you knew what to look for phenotypically. My years of studying mouse behavior came to my aid as I was able to quickly pick up nuances in worm behavior and find ways to track them. Further, with a nervous system encompassing 302 neurons, it was possible to use genetically encodable fluorescent markers to study neuronal development and fate. I worked with a C. elegans based Alzheimer’s disease model and discovered genetic and pharmacological means to prevent neurodegeneration. I also learned that I could get lost for hours looking at fluorescently-tagged worms tracking their sinuous, graceful movements on a bed of eerily translucent agar.
At Perlstein Lab, I serve as the resident nematode researcher, optimizing lysosomal storage disease models, and designing rapid drug screening assays. I work with a fantastic group of researchers who share my love of everything quirky. In my spare time, I hike, obsess about redwoods and firs, rescue kittens and watch YouTube videos on kittens (like the rest of my peers).