To say that Desert Cannalytix is a passion project for Malorie La Fuente would be an understatement.
Looking at her background and experience in the laboratory field, it is apparent that they are mostly leading up to her creating this innovative startup.
Malorie was born in Brooklyn, NY but her family ended up moving to TN when her father, who previously worked on fighter jets for the Air Force, landed a new career opportunity. He served as a field service engineer for biomedical equipment within various laboratory settings.
“I remember him taking me along on service calls during my summers off from school. The memories that stand out clearly in my mind were the pharmaceutical and clinical labs within St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. My dad would explain to me what centrifuges were, how to maintain and operate them, etc. I remember the pharmaceutical lab where he showed me that they were able to manufacture amino acids for the patients that had illnesses preventing them from producing their own.”
Around the same time, she was also hooked on watching the animated show “Dexter’s Laboratory,” which she said has triggered her imagination.
“Using my imagination and tying that into reality, I always knew I wanted to work in a lab. When it was time to start applying to colleges, I searched for programs that involved working in laboratories.”
Malorie ended up moving back to New York and attending the Clinical Laboratory Science program at St. John’s University, where she had the option to pursue either a generalist or specialist license.
“I opted to pursue the path of a generalist. As a generalist in laboratory science, I was required to complete and pass courses and clinical rotations in the following fields: Microbiology, Serology, molecular diagnostics, clinical chemistry, cytogenetics, immunohematology, hematology, histology.”
According to her, this decision helped her become familiar with different instrumentation and methods that were the most accurate and sensitive to provide diagnostic information to clinicians.
“With healthcare, there is little room for error. If incorrect or invalid results are reported, illnesses could be missed or also, a patient could be inappropriately diagnosed or treated for something they don’t have.”
After graduation, she got her first job as a bench technologist in a small hospital in Palm Beach County, Florida.
“Being that lab technicians have typically been in high demand, I would frequently have headhunters reaching out with opportunities from across the country. An opportunity to move to Las Vegas and accept a position as a lead bench technician for Quest Diagnostics came up and decided to take the offer.
Upon taking the job, Malorie quickly moved into managerial roles in her late 20s. She thanks the extensive training and education she received from St. John’s University for her exponential professional growth.
“Two years into my professional career, I was quickly promoted into supervisory and managerial roles. My clinical rotations were at some of the best pathology labs in NYC.”
Malorie’s introduction to robotics and advanced technology in the laboratory would come later in her career when she met Kenny the robot in the laboratory that she is currently working at. She said Kenny was comparable in size with R2-D2 from “Star Wars.”
“He was configured and mapped to deliver samples to various departments in the lab. Kenny belonged to the specimen processing area which eventually ended up being the department I was to supervise. I was ecstatic. Little did I know, this was just the beginning of my exposure to the robotic and technological realm.”
According to Malorie, the lab eventually became more convoluted and needed some more upgrades. It’s a good thing their director at the time was really into newer technologies so the lab kept improving at a rapid rate.
“We ended up introducing an automation line to our workflow. I was both excited and a little nervous because it was my responsibility to implement and validate its use and train my staff. This automation line removed manual labor from the mix in its entirety. The system could load up to 300 samples at a time and a robotic arm would swing over, grab each sample one by one, read the barcode, place on a carrier, remove the specimen caps, centrifuge the sample if necessary, and then deliver to the appropriate analyzer based on the test ordered. Once testing was complete, the automation line would seal the sample and then deliver the samples to a refrigerated storage unit where the specimens would remain viable for 5-7 days.”
While working as a manager in one of the smaller local hospitals right off the Las Vegas strip, Malorie said she experienced the pressure of seeking licensure from the state and accreditation by the College of American Pathology (CAP).
At just 27-years-old at the time, Malorie remembered being nervous when the CAP inspector showed up and told her, “Inspections take place not to be punitive, but rather to bring attention to items that can potentially create unsafe outcomes for patients from poor lab practices or even for employees. If I find any sort of violation, you will have 30-90 days to provide a solution for the citation.”
“He had me go and pull random documentation logs to show we were performing the correct maintenance on the analyzers, monitoring the quality of results, reports, etc. while he walked around browsing the lab and speaking with staff. After a grueling 8 hours, the inspector was wrapping up and it was time to discuss the outcome. He began…” you have a lot to be proud of. I can see your dedication to quality and safety based on what I saw and reviewed today.””
The inspector left her with a couple of citations, noting that “every lab can use some improvements.”
The lab was given 30 days to rectify the cited issues such as incomplete/ missing competency documentation on the staff, missing temperature documentation in our reagent/ supply closet, and in various refrigerators, freezers. They were also told to come up with a plan of action to prevent mishaps in the future.
Should similar issues appear in the follow-up inspections, the consequence would be more severe than a citation, which meant operations could be halted.
“What did I do from here? I got rid of manual temperature taking and documenting on paper logs. I purchased Bluetooth sensors that took temperature readings every 5 minutes. Every reading would be recorded in a system software and any time anything fell out of range, a notification would be sent to key personnel’s company cell phones and/or e-mail. Corrective action could be documented directly into the system and you would never again have to worry about missing or lost documentation.”
The experience coincided with her first time having to develop and maintain a team.
“I had staff working round the clock 24/7 as hospital labs never close. At that point, I realized I needed to find my strongest staff on each shift, show them what the expectations were and have them help distribute knowledge. I was beginning to learn how to build an organizational structure, how to create a strong team from the foundation up. A leader or organization is nothing without the front-line staff. 30 days later, I felt I accomplished a landmark moment. We passed our first and initial inspection.”
Time for Desert Cannalytix
Malorie says she’s currently having a lot of fun, having seen so many cool things over the span of her career. While she admits that it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, she says she’s grateful for the challenges and criticisms just as much as the positives.
“Whatever I do, I feel like every moment is a learning opportunity which is building upon the last. So that being said, the knowledge and skills developed while working in the stringent atmosphere of healthcare seem to have dead-ended for now. Working in a county-operated hospital has a limited budget therefore, new capital purchases don’t happen but every 10-15 years. I haven’t had the opportunity to grow into new roles either in quite some time as the unfortunate truth is upper management seems to be filled with personnel twice my age.”
This is why Malorie is dedicating the next chapter of her life to helping infantile cannabis and other plant medicine industry that is in great need of people with her credentials and knowledge.
“I really stand by the fact that well-operated testing labs are going to bloom throughout the US and other parts of the world as legalization continues to spread like wildfire. I want nothing more than to be a part of this crucial point in history. In 5 years or sooner, I’d love to expand a little piece of the Las Vegas desert to other parts of the country by creating Desert Cannalytix satellite facilities.”