As a scientist, Elizabeth Ruzzo likes to make data-driven decisions. So when she went through trial and error with various doctors to find a birth control method that wouldn’t make her miserable, she was angry and confused. She consulted with a doctor only to experience what she called “medical gaslight” on her symptoms.
“I decided to dedicate my expertise in precision medicine to demanding a new standard of care,” Ruzzo said.
Part of that journey has led her to adyn, a Seattle startup she founded and leads, which will launch a trial this fall to analyze genetic and hormonal data in women and identify potential side effects caused by different contraceptive methods.
“Adyn’s scientific approach means eliminating painful years of trial, error and even doubt,” said Ruzzo, our latest Geek of the Week.
Ruzzo said she has been interested in understanding the genetic cause of human disease since learning about DNA. Born and raised in Seattle, she earned a Ph.D. from Duke University in human genetics and genomics, and learned to analyze data from an emerging technology called next-generation sequencing.
“My research involved studying how biology and genetic markers can be used to understand disease and predict response to medication,” he said. “I discovered more than 36 genes and linked them to specific human diseases, and I also used machine learning to help discover 16 new autism genes, showing clear evidence of inherited risk of autism.”
Ruzzo’s mission at adyn is to make scientific discoveries more inclusive and close the gaps caused by what Ruzzo calls “historical inequity in medical research.”
“Medical studies are biased towards men and people of European descent, repeatedly hampering our ability to develop inclusive diagnoses and treatments that help everyone,” he said. “People who use adyn to optimize their contraceptive methods can choose to participate as anonymous research participants to help bridge the gaps in medical research on gender and race.”
There are a number of different precision medicine directions that the startup is exploring beyond testing for contraceptive side effects. adyn raised $ 2.5 million in April.
After going to study in North Carolina and Los Angeles, Ruzzo said he couldn’t resist the opportunity to build adyn in Seattle amid its burgeoning tech scene. When he’s not working, he likes to cook, exercise, and play soccer.
Find out more about our latest geek of the week, Elizabeth Ruzzo:
What is the most important thing people should know about your field? There are so many amazing and important things to know about precision medicine and genetics, so I’ll give you two:
As for DNA, we are all 99.9% the same. It is that 0.1% that makes each person unique, from how you look to how you respond to medications. These small differences can explain why you react differently to a certain drug than your friend or even your brother.
Women were not required to be included in clinical trials in the US until 1993. This gap in medical research has had massive implications for women’s health: women are more likely than men to suffer adverse side effects of drugs because drug dosage recommendations have historically been based on clinical trials conducted in men.
Where do you find your inspiration? Scientists of the past and present who make and share discoveries with the world. Also, the stories from the adyn community … women have shared their birth control odyssey with us and I read them all. No two stories are the same, but the impact that the wrong (or correct) method of birth control can have is staggering.
What’s the only technology you couldn’t live without and why? DNA sequence. I was able to identify the causes of multiple diseases with this technology and it inspires me to continue making discoveries about human biology.
What is your workspace like and why does it work for you? I finally broke down and bought a standing desktop converter. I love my external monitor and solar powered keyboard. I have a window in my office that makes it possible to have a plant (and keep it alive), which I have heard can do things like reduce stress, increase productivity, and even boost creativity. I also have a scientific illustration of a rhino that my sister drew hanging behind me, which adds a touch of intrigue to a fairly normal workspace.
Your best tip or trick for managing your everyday work and life. (Help us, we need it). We are a distributed team with a strong contingent from East Coasters. Like West Coaster, I spend the first few hours of each day on calls and meetings. I adjusted my schedule to take a break to exercise at the end of the East Coast hours and then pick things up afterward. It gives my brain and eyes a break from screen time and increases my energy to function for the rest of the day.
Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac.
Favorite superhero or sci-fi character? Deanna troi (also my fourth grade halloween costume).
Transporter, time machine, or invisibility cloak? Transporter to the end! My wish list of places to travel and friends to visit is too long for any other option.
If someone gave me $ 1 million to launch a startup, I would … They did it! And I threw adyn.
I waited in line once for … Taco truck tacos (well, maybe more than once).
Your role models: My grandmother. He lived to be 103 years old and would have lived even longer if it weren’t for Covid. She lived through the Great Depression and taught me the value of not wasting anything. She was a home economics teacher and an incredible quilter. He always liked a good joke (even slightly inappropriate ones). She was stubborn and independent. She lived alone for years and continued to knit even after being legally blind. He made a devilish egg and he was more popular than I will ever be.
The best game ever: “Code names. “
The best gadget of all time: Bluetooth Audio Sunglasses: These are high on my “pamper yourself” list.
First computer: PowerBook G3.
Current phone: iPhone.
Favorite app: Information timer.
Favorite cause: Equity in health.
Most important technology of 2021: Adyn birth control optimization test.
Most important technology of 2023: Personalized medicine for everything: birth control, anxiety, depression, AD (H) D, acne, etc.
Latest tips for your fellow geeks: I have wasted a lot of time and energy in my career fighting imposter syndrome. What I have come to realize is that no one knows what they are doing (definitely not at first). So work hard, stay curious, and be open to learning. Build your expertise and trust your own hard work. Surround yourself with people who are equally curious and hard-working.
LinkedIn: Elizabeth ruzzo