In the spring, we started introducing the Perlara Team – both new hires as well as not-so-new hires – on the blog. Around the same time, The New York Times launched a now-regular feature – Overlooked – recognizing women whose accomplishments had gone unremarked. Our blog is no Times, but it got us thinking: is there someone on our team whose work is long overdue for recognition? One name came to mind: Tamy Portillo Rodriguez. While not a member of the founding team, Tamy joined the company soon thereafter, in September 2014. She has written multiple blog posts and, most recently, is the first author on Perlara’s first peer-reviewed paper. Well, overlooked no more! Find out what it’s like to be the longest-serving member of Perlara’s fly team, and what about her job motivates Tamy to commute 3 hours a day for it.

What led you to Perlara? 

After graduating from UC Davis, I was looking for a place where I could not only put into practice what I had learned in school, but a place where I could keep learning more and grow as a scientist. Perlstein Lab [the precursor to Perlara] was founded in February 2014, and Tom Hartl was the only fly team member at that time. But with an NPC1 50K fly high throughput screen approaching, the fly team was in need of a new member. I was lucky to have been in search of a job at that time, and became the sixth employee, and the second member of the fly team. Perlara has given me the opportunity to not only apply my Drosophila knowledge, but also to learn more about the different models and techniques we use to search for small molecules that can rescue our rare disease mutants. I am really grateful that an opening was available at the time of my search.

What are you working on?

Being an old fly team member has allowed me to work on all the different aspects of a PerlQuest:  conducting a natural history study on the fly mutant by doing some genetic characterizations and phenotyping; conducting different experiments to have a reliable small molecule high throughput screen for that particular fly mutant; running pilot screens (3K small molecules) and then the large (20K or 50K small molecules) screen and, finally, conducting validation studies on the obtained hit small molecules. Currently, I am working with different fly team members on different stages of various projects using the amazing fruit fly as a model organism. Madeleine Prangley, Joshua Mast and I just finished a 20K high throughput screen on NGLY1 fly mutants, and we will be conducting validation studies next. Julide Bilen and I just finished a 3K pilot screen on MLIV fly mutants, and we will be conducting assay development studies on PMM2 fly model to run a high throughput screen. Josh and I will soon start natural history studies on new fly team PerlQuest projects.

Why do you like going to work?

I drive 1 hour to work at 5 in the morning, and 2 hours back home in the afternoon, five days a week. Why have I done it for 4 years? Or why do I keep on doing it? It’s a question I have been asked so many times by so many people, and my answer has always been the same: I love my work and what I do. I love the people I work with and the friendly environment. But I think the main reason I like going to work is because I know that what we all do at Perlara is not just look for cures to rare diseases that tend to be overlooked by large pharmaceutical companies. We provide hope to those families that entrust us with the search of a small molecule that could help their family member have a better life.

What do Perlara’s vision, mission and core values mean to you?

There are about 4,000 monogenic rare diseases that are overlooked by large pharmaceutical companies just because the number of patients is too small for them to make a profit. Perlara’s mission of finding small molecules that can cure a rare disease and, also, alleviate or cure a more common disease could attract the interest of large pharmaceutical companies. That, in turn, could speed up the drug development process for that particular rare disease. Furthermore, being open about our findings and sharing them on our blog has allowed other scientists who read our blog to re-direct their studies without having to wait years to find out about pertinent details. This helps the understanding of that particular rare disease and will, hopefully, move it into the common disease area. Perlara’s vision, mission and core values are my motivations to do what I do.

Read Tamy’s other blog posts to find out more about her work. 

We’ll be introducing more Perlara team members in the coming months. In the meantime, keep your eyes open for their new work discovering cures for rare diseases

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