Perlman Symposium

David Perlman - Biographical Memoir

Dr. David Perlman

William L. Blockstein, Henry A. Lardy, Kenneth B. Raper, Charles J. Sih, and Melvin H. Weinswig Excerpted from University of Wisconsin-Madison, Faculty Senate Memorial Resolution

Born in Madison in 1920, educated at Madison West High, David Perlman received his degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: B.A. (Chemistry, 1941, with thesis honors); M.S. (Biochemistry, 1943); and Ph.D. (Biochemistry, 1945).

These were exciting years for microbial technology and Wisconsin's Department of Biochemistry was one of the world's outstanding centers of research. Perlman's tutors, Professors W. H. Peterson and M. J. Johnson, were both understanding of and sympathetic to his inquiring mind, and allowed more flexibility than was usual for graduate students in those days. On one occasion, he biked (no ten speeders in those days!) 200 miles from Madison to the Northern Region Research Laboratory at Peoria to see, first hand, the penicillin research underway.

Following short periods at Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc., and Merck and Co., Dr. Perlman joined the Squibb Institute for Medical Research as a Microbial Biochemist. He studied streptomycin fermentation (where he discovered the enzyme mannosidostreptomycinase, important in converting mannosidostreptomycin to the more clinically useful streptomycin); process development aspects of neomycin, vitamin Bl2, and tetracycline fermentations; and practical application of mammalian cell culture. Remarkable accomplishments during this period included discovery of the conversion of Reichstein's compound S to hydroxylated steroids, the commercially important microbial hydroxylation of the 16 position of steroids, and the potential for metabolic inhibitors to influence the biosynthesis of tetracycline (resulting in the demethyl series of these clinically important antibiotics). In 1966, a Guggenheim Fellowship allowed Dr. Perlman to begin studies on Vitamin B12-antagonists at Professor Barker’s Berkeley Laboratory and also to initiate studies on the microbial transformation of peptide antibiotics starting with the actinomycins.

In 1967, after some 23 years in the fermentation phase of the pharmaceutical industry, Dr. Perlman moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, first as Knapp visiting professor, then as Professor of Pharmaceutical Biochemistry in the School of Pharmacy. The opportunities at the School of Pharmacy included the possibility of enlarging his research activities and teaching both undergraduate and graduate students. From 1968 until June 1975 he served as Dean of the School while carrying out his teaching responsibilities and supervising an active research program. Unusual administrative problems occurred during this period, including major damage to the Pharmacy School building when a bomb was exploded in the adjacent Mathematics Research Center. Nevertheless, during his tenure as administrator the size of the student body of the school doubled, and the faculty increased by 150 percent accompanied by substantial increase in research space.

Upon returning to full-time teaching and research, he increased his activities. These included serving as editor of 27 books, including the Advances in Applied Microbiology series and the Annual Reports on Fermentation Processes, and participation as a member of the editorial boards of five journals. His nearly 300 scientific and 75 nonscientific publications attest to his enormous capacity for productivity. He held 28 U.S. patents.

Perlman impact spans campus - How much difference can one woman make?*

Dr. Katherine Perlman
  • Phenomenal undergraduate musicians play to full houses in the School of Music.
  • More than 200 scientists attend a campus symposium dedicated to antibiotic discovery and development.
  • Another door opens for graduate and professional pharmacy students.
  • A new 19th century painting will hang in the Chazen Museum of Art before the year is out.

Katherine “Kato” Lenard Perlman, PhD, a distinguished service emerita, senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is touching lives on and off campus with her gifts.

The Perlman Piano Trio Fund provides $10,000 a year for each of the trio musicians, plus an extra $5,000 for a fourth member if needed. The David and Kato Perlman School of Pharmacy Student Scholarship and their Distinguished Graduate Fellowships in Pharmacy help the School attract the brightest candidates. The Perlman Symposium on Antibiotic Discovery and Development encourages new research, and a gift to the Chazen financed the purchase of the painting.

“(The trio support) allows the very best of our students to explore their talents in a different way,” said Martha Fischer, associate professor of piano and trio advisor. The trio members have excelled beyond anyone’s expectations because of the award.

“With that gift comes a certain responsibility,” Fischer said. “(The students) feel they need to push themselves more. To set apart a special group to play chamber music together says chamber music is important and worthy of their time and energy.” The trio has also connected with the community with the well-attended concerts.

In the School of Pharmacy, The Perlman scholarship for professional students helps ensure that a pharmacy education is open to all who are qualified, Dean Jeanette Roberts said. Graduate support is critical to attracting the best and brightest graduate students to Wisconsin. They will become tomorrow’s faculty, research scientists, professionals and leaders. “The School is especially pleased to be able to permanently honor David Perlman, our former dean, through a named scholarship and graduate fellowship,” she said.

Chazen Museum of Art Director Russell Panczenko recently completed the purchase of a 19th century Dutch masterpiece with a gift from Perlman. “There is no state money or university money for building the art collection,” he said. “Our entire collection is dependent on individuals.” A gift such as Perlman’s allows the art museum to acquire a piece of historic and aesthetic significance.

In choosing a work to buy with gift dollars, Panczenko said he looks for a piece that relates to the donor – “something they can be proud of.” Three days of looking through auction catalogs with Perlman helped him identify her interest in 19th century art that depicts family emotions. He spent more than a year finding the right piece to buy.

“If they’re good, (19th century pieces) don’t come up in the art market very often,” He said. “In Grandfather’s Arms” by Jozef Israels will go on display at the Chazen as soon as it is cleaned, re-varnished and delivered.

The Perlman Symposium on Antibiotic Discovery and Development especially recognizes David Perlman’s lifelong interest in antibiotic research. “My husband was always for education, education, education,” Kato Perlman said.

David Perlman, a Madison native, earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the UW-Madison, the latter in biochemistry. A microbial biochemist, he made several discoveries linked to antibiotics and vitamin B-12 while working at the Squibb Institute for Medical Research in New Jersey. He returned to the UW-Madison in 1967, where he served as dean of the School of Pharmacy from 1968-1975.

Kato Perlman’s career began in her native Budapest, Hungary, where she earned her PhD in organic chemistry and worked for a pharmaceutical company and the Research Institute for Pharmaceutical Industry. When she emigrated, she joined her brother in the United States. “I went back to Hungary twice because I chickened out,” she said. The third time, Perlman found a perfect career fit in the Princeton University Department of Chemistry. She met David Perlman a week after arriving in Princeton, married him in 1968 and followed him to Madison. She worked in her husband’s lab, isolating, identifying and synthesizing microbial products – and learned to hurry home in time to host dean’s receptions. Without her own National Institutes of Health funding, Perlman lost her job when her husband died in 1980 after a three-year battle with cancer.

“The odd thing is, from every bad thing, something good comes,” Perlman said.

Pharmacy Professor Charles Sih introduced her to vitamin D pioneer Hector DeLuca, who have her a job, a free hand and her own lab. Fifteen years later, Perlman retired as a senior scientist, after being included on several of DeLuca’s patents. The patent income is the foundation of her philanthropy. “I could have done the same work elsewhere and nothing would have come of it,” she said.

When she wanted to establish a piano trio, Perlman turned to former Chancellor Irving Shain, who became her philanthropic advisor. Morphy Hall was packed for the first Perlman Trio concert. “And they got a standing ovation,” Perlman remembered. She decided then to provide continued, immediate funding for the group. “Why would I try to increase an endowment and wait until I am dead, when I could help these kids now?”

Despite the success of her philanthropy, Perlman said she would give up her wealth to have her husband back. “I don’t have that choice,” she said. “This way, the trio, having those kids, is such satisfaction.”

*Article taken from “A Report from the University of Wisconsin Foundation – Giving from Within – The faculty-staff impact” Winter 2010

Copyright © 2017, The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.

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