When Alyla Annac was just 19 years old her father passed away from heart failure. He had suffered 3 heart attacks and doctors said there was nothing else they could do. He was just 53 years old.
For the last 19 years Annac has worked to help prevent any other patient from hearing these words.
She first got a job at a pharmaceutical company in Turkey where she lived. Then she went on to complete an MBA in the United States. During her work she met two scientists, Elliott Elson and Tetsuro Wakatsuki, who were working to develop 3D models of the heart. These researchers said they believed their work could have helped her father. Annac jumped on board. With her experience in business she was able to help the team obtain a patent. They created a business plan and in 2011 InvivoSciences was formed. Annac serves as the CEO.
People told Annac she wouldn’t make it because she was an immigrant and because she was a woman. But Annac was determined. Although she admits finding funding as a woman in an industry dominated by men can be difficult, she hasn’t let it stop her. Her work is for her dad. It’s been 30 years since he passed, and the treatment options for heart disease are still extremely limited. Annac is determined to help change this.
The organization operates out of Madison, Wisconsin. The move to Wisconsin was strategic to help attract new stem cell companies to the state.
InvivoSciences was one of the first to develop a 3D model of human tissue. This 3D model is important because 2D models simply can’t replicate the functions of the heart. These researchers are using real human cells to create these miniaturized tissues. It takes about 5 weeks to create a personalized replica of a patient’s heart tissue. This team now has a grid of 96.
The company has been awarded NIH funding to complete their work. They are testing combinations of drugs on these models to examine toxicity and responsiveness. The goal is that this work will lead to improved personalized medicine for patients as well as innovative new drug development.
While this individualized approach is primarily aiding research currently, the hope is that in the future it will help physicians to prescribe the best treatment option for individual patients who have different genetics and attributes which would affect their response to therapies.
The company is working with cell manufacturers and other developers who are working to find treatments for cancers toxic to the heart, heart disease, muscular dystrophy, and other illnesses. Annac explains how the cost of clinical trials has held back research for heart disease. By focusing on smaller, more targeted studies, they are able to examine investigative therapies at a smaller cost for specific patient populations.
In addition to the wonderful work Annac is doing with her company, she is determined to give back to the community who has helped support her. She provides autistic college students opportunities to work in her lab, matching them with a task that will best fit their skills. Some of these students have gone on to be hired as official staff. She also speaks and mentors students at the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Engineering. Annac has a passion for encouraging young women to pursue their dreams.
You can read more about this 3D innovation here.