On a mission for innovation and translational science, Rahima Benhabbour is using 3D-printing technology and her startup company AnelleO to create a breakthrough in women’s health.
Why Innnovators Care
Current technology for intervaginal rings is a one-size-fits-all product. The goal of AnelleO is to create an alternative that is more efficient in drug delivery and can be customized to women and their individual needs.
Rahima Benhabbour has always been an advocate for women’s health issues. As an assistant professor in the UNC/NC State Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering and an adjunct professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, her passion is to develop innovative technologies that prevent HIV infections and other health conditions in women.
As fate would have it, watching a TED talk featuring global 3D printing company Carbon was the inspiration she needed to jumpstart her innovative idea. As she watched Carbon CEO and Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry Joe DeSimone demonstrate his 3D printer on stage, her mind quickly turned. She began to wonder how she could apply 3D printing technology to intravaginal rings (IVR).
“I’m from north Africa. I’m a woman. The thought of helping women – some that don’t have a way of protecting themselves or controlling their lives – that’s my ultimate passion,” she says. “It’s a dream for me to give back.”
As she watched the 3D printer at work, Benhabbour saw how it could quickly print intricate features and asked herself, “What if we could add those intricate features to an IVR, customizing them for drug delivery?” And with that, AnelleO was born. An advocate for women’s health issues, Benhabbour wanted meaning behind the name for her startup. “Anelleo” means ring in Italian and Elle is “her” in French. The letter O represents the ring the company makes. All put together, it means “a ring for her.”
Engineering personalized care
Currently, women seeking to use IVRs are given a one-size-fits-all product. By creating an alternative that is not only efficient in drug delivery but can be customized to women and their individual needs, Benhabbour is making more personalized and effective care a reality.
“Unlike traditional technology, 3D printing gives us the ability and engineering to play around with the design and properties of a product. We can engineer parts that would not have been possible before,” she says. “The main goal of developing this 3D technology is to have the ability to change the ways in which women’s products are manufactured and designed. And the applications for the technology are endless – including prevention of HIV, sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.”
Since launching in 2016, AnelleO continues to grow and work on its first product, AnelleO PRO, a once-a-month progesterone-releasing ring for infertility and assisted reproductive technology. Current products approved for progesterone supplementation are limited to messy and unpleasant vaginal gels or inserts and painful IM injections that have to be administered daily. Designed to safely and steadily release progesterone over an extended duration, AnelleO PRO could potentially replace current therapies and impact more than 1.5 million women.