As a scientist, Elizabeth Ruzzo likes making decisions based on data. So when she suffered through trial and error with multiple doctors to find a birth control that didn’t make her miserable, she was angry and confused. She consulted with a doctor only to experience what she called “medical gaslighting” about 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 that is launching a test this fall to analyze genetic and hormone data in women and identify potential side effects caused by different methods of birth control.
“adyn’s scientific approach means eliminating painful years of trial, error, and even self-doubt,” said Ruzzo, our latest Geek of the Week.
Ruzzo said she’s been interested in understanding the genetic cause of human disease ever since she learned about DNA. Born and raised in Seattle, she earned a PhD from Duke University in human genetics and genomics, learning how to analyze data from a then-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,” she said. “I discovered over 36 genes and linked them to specific human diseases, and also used machine learning to help uncover 16 new autism genes, showing clear evidence for inherited risk for autism.”
Ruzzo’s mission at adyn is to make scientific discovery more inclusive and close gaps caused by what Ruzzo calls “historic inequity in medical research.”
“Medical studies are biased towards males and individuals of European ancestry, which repeatedly impedes our ability to develop inclusive diagnostics and treatments that help everybody,” she said. “People who use adyn to optimize their birth control can choose to opt in as an anonymous research participant to help close the medical gender and race research gaps.”
There are a number of different precision medicine directions the startup is exploring beyond the birth control side effects test. adyn raised $2.5 million in April.
After leaving to study in North Carolina and Los Angeles, Ruzzo said she couldn’t resist the chance to build adyn in Seattle amid its booming tech scene. When not working, she enjoys cooking, exercise and soccer.
Learn more about our latest Geek of the Week, Elizabeth Ruzzo:
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? There are so many important and surprising things to know about precision medicine and genetics, so I’ll give you two:
DNA-wise, we are all 99.9% the same. It’s that 0.1% that makes each person unique — from what you look like to how you respond to medication. These tiny differences can explain why you react differently to a certain medication than your friend or even your sibling.
Women were not required to be included in clinical trials in the U.S. until 1993. This medical research gap has had massive implications for women’s health: women are more likely than men to suffer adverse side effects of medications because drug dosage recommendations have historically been based on clinical trials conducted on men.
Where do you find your inspiration? Scientists past and present who make and share discoveries with the world. Also, the adyn community stories … women have shared their birth control odyssey with us and I read every single one. No two stories are the same but the impact that the wrong (or right) birth control can have is astounding.
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? DNA sequencing. 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’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? I finally cracked and purchased a standing desk converter. I love my external monitor and solar powered keyboard. I have a window in my office which makes it possible to have a plant (and keep it alive), which I’ve heard can do things like reduce stress, increase productivity, and even boost creativity. I also have a scientific illustration of a rhinoceros that my sister drew hanging behind me, which adds a touch of intrigue to an otherwise pretty normal workspace!
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) We’re a distributed team with a strong contingent of East Coasters. As a West Coaster myself, I spend the first several hours of each day on calls and in meetings. I’ve adjusted my schedule to take an exercise break at the end of East Coast hours, and then pick things up again afterwards. It gives my brain and my eyes a break from screen time, and boosts my energy to power through the rest of the day.
Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac.
Favorite superhero or sci-fi character? Deanna Troi (also my 4th grade halloween costume).
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter all the way! My wish list of places to travel and friends to visit is far too long for any other choice.
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … They did! And I launched adyn.
I once waited in line for … Taco truck tacos (OK, maybe more than once).
Your role models: My grandma. She lived to 103 and would have lived even longer if not 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. She always loved a good joke (even the slightly inappropriate ones). She was stubborn and independent. She lived alone for years and continued to quilt even after being legally blind. She made a mean deviled egg and was more popular than I’ll ever be.
Greatest game in history: “Codenames.”
Best gadget ever: Bluetooth audio sunglasses — these are high on my “treat yourself” list.
First computer: PowerBook G3.
Current phone: iPhone.
Favorite app: Insight Timer.
Favorite cause: Health equity.
Most important technology of 2021: adyn’s Birth Control Optimization Test.
Most important technology of 2023: Personalized medicine for everything — birth control, anxiety, depression, AD(H)D, acne, etc.
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy in my career battling imposter syndrome. What I’ve realized 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 in your own hard work. Surround yourself with people who are similarly curious and hard working.
LinkedIn: Elizabeth Ruzzo