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Jasnehta Permala Booth

CVD’s Permala Booth Wins Employee of the Month AwardJasnehta Permala Booth, MS, says she’s a shy person by nature. She likes to do her job, do it well, and not boast about it. But on Feb. 18, Permala Booth had no choice in the matter after she was named the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) February Employee of the Month.

“I don’t like talking about myself, but being recognized for what I’m doing is satisfying,” says Permala Booth, a lab manager and research supervisor at the School of Medicine’s Center for Vaccine Development (CVD) and Global Health. “CVD is a very interesting place to work, and I feel that the job I do is extremely important. I feel very honored to win this award.”

Permala Booth had joined five of her colleagues for a meeting with UMB Interim President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, at the Saratoga Building, but when Jarrell arrived, he announced that the meeting was all about her.

“It sounds like you get a lot of things done at CVD, and I’m thankful for that,” Jarrell told Permala Booth. “It’s impressive that your co-workers think so highly of you to nominate you for this UMB award. CVD is a wonderful operation, and I hold it in very high esteem.”

Her colleagues clearly have high esteem for Permala Booth, a microbiologist who has worked at UMB for nearly five years. Her supervisor, Sharon M. Tennant, PhD, associate professor of medicine, CVD, calls her “an amazing asset to our team.”

“Jasnehta oversees the CVD clinical microbiology laboratory with minimal supervision,” says Tennant, who is chief of CVD’s Clinical Microbiology and Molecular Diagnostics Section. “She also is the manager of my laboratory and ensures that everything is running smoothly. She is conscientious, cooperative, respectful, dedicated, and consistently performs at an outstanding level.”

Recently, Permala Booth coordinated the microbiology tasks for a randomized Phase 2a clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of an investigational new drug (IND) against cholera diarrhea. The study was done in collaboration with biotech company Pharmaron and funded by PATH, a global nonprofit health organization. In these controlled human infection model trials, participants are intentionally “challenged” by ingesting an infectious disease organism (e.g., cholera), then half of the cohort is treated with the IND and the other half with a placebo. The participants are then subjected to testing and clinical observations to determine the efficacy and safety of the IND.

“Jasnehta prepared the challenge organism and made sure she met all of the desired criteria and performed all of the relevant identity and purity tests,” Tennant says. “She was very patient with audits from the study’s sponsor, helped put together the budget and the procedures, and did an outstanding job during the trial to help us convey the results so volunteers could be discharged in a timely fashion.”

Permala Booth says she takes this part of her job very seriously, particularly with the challenge organisms that are administered orally.

“I have to make sure that the challenge strain is pure, meets all the standards, and is at the accurate dosage,” she says. “I need to be very meticulous so that there is no deviation from the dosage range — I can’t go more, I can’t go less, because it can affect people’s health and the study results. I have to be very diligent.

“During the trials, I coordinate with the doctors, project coordinators, and other clinical staff to obtain correctly labeled volunteer samples in complete sets for each timepoint so that a comprehensive data set can be obtained from the study,” she adds. “In the next crucial phase of the study, I need to evaluate and confirm that the volunteers have stopped shedding cholera organisms before they can be discharged from the inpatient facility. This needs to be done in a timely fashion while ensuring that we have met all the requirements for discharge of volunteers and that we have adhered to the study protocol.”

Wilbur H. Chen, MD, MS, associate professor of medicine, CVD, says the efforts of employees like Permala Booth allow the center to do clinical tests on par with those done by large pharmaceutical companies.

“It’s pretty special in and of itself to just get prepared for the study, then to conduct the study itself is another huge accomplishment,” Chen says. “We’ve got a really special person here.”

In addition to all the praise, Permala Booth received a plaque, a letter of commendation, and news that an extra $250 would be in her next paycheck. She thanked Tennant, Chen, and other CVD leaders for trusting her and giving her such great responsibility.

“I am very proud to be part of Dr. Tennant’s lab and the Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health and I’m thankful for the incredible support of our center’s team during the clinical trials,” Permala Booth says. “CVD is like a family, and that’s what I like about it. Everybody works together.”

— Lou Cortina

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