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Dr. Hintzsche and daughter
Dr. Jenn Hintzsche ’06, CEO of PherDal Fertility Science, Inc., and daughter Lois

’06 grad impacting families with PherDal Fertility Science

For people exploring medical options in their struggle to conceive children, emotional and financial stress are familiar territory. Now the FDA has granted clearance to an at-home insemination kit that allows would-be parents to take control of their experience. The creator of the device is Dr. Jenn Hintzsche  ’06, CEO of PherDal (pron. “fertile") Fertility Science, Inc. 

For Dr. Hintzsche, the idea came out of necessity. Near the end of a frustrating appointment with a fertility specialist, she was told she had “unexplained infertility.” She had to laugh. 

“At the time, I was doing precision oncology cancer research. On this side of the hallway, I’m spending 80 hours a week trying to find personalized cancer therapies for people. And across the hall I’m told, ‘You have unexplained infertility, we don’t know what’s wrong.’”

Then they handed her a pre-prepared loan application for $10,000 to cover the treatment. “And I said, ‘What are you treating if you don’t know what’s wrong?’”

PherDal fertility kit

Each kit includes three sterile, individually wrapped syringes and collection jars, step-by-step instructions and video instructions. Mailing packages are blank, to maintain privacy.

As a research scientist, Dr. Hintzsche knew what to do when something was unexplained. She also knew she didn’t want to buy expensive treatment for an unknown problem. With both the emotional conviction and the scientific background, she decided to dig in and find out for herself. 

In her research, she found that for idiopathic unexplained infertility, a small cohort of people were finding success with a different type of treatment, much less expensive, in the clinical setting. 

Her first thought was, “Why wasn’t I offered this treatment?” Second, “Why can’t I do this at home?” 

These questions started Dr. Hintzsche on a path that led to PherDal Fertility Science and “the only sterile, FDA-cleared, patented, at-home insemination kit.” Patented since 2022, the device received FDA clearance in December 2023. 

The process, from the start of her inquiry to the final product, was aided by access to the right kind of supplies in her research lab, connections with people who believed in her vision, and the fact she had “married a really great guy who went along with the plan.”

Proof positive 

In January 2018, she received her first evidence: a positive pregnancy test. Now 5 years old, daughter Lois was conceived in only the second month using the PherDal kit. Dr. Hintzsche and her husband Ryan also have a 4-year-old son, Zack. 

Jenn Hintzsche, husband Ryan and children
Dr. Jenn Hintzsche, husband Ryan, and children Lois and Zack

Today people can pay $200 for this safe and private fertility kit, arriving by mail in discreet packaging, instead of paying thousands of dollars for clinical treatment. Though not a clinical trial, the reported numbers are good; within 90 days she sold the first 200 kits. This led to 34 babies, including a pair of siblings. 

Dr. Hintzsche said it all began at Augustana. 

Her grandmother Lois and then two more grandparents passed away while she was in college, all from cancer. This motivated her to join the effort to cure cancer. She started as a pre-med major, but quickly changed to chemistry. In her junior year, she knew she liked science, but she wasn’t a star student and didn’t know what to do. One day she found herself sitting in the office of her immunology professor Dr. Dara Wegman-Geedey, saying, “I clearly can’t go to grad school, I’ll never become a doctor like you.” 

Dr. Wegman-Geedey stopped her right there and asked, “Why?” 

“It’s not just the science. It’s the ethics, the inquiry, the communication.”

– Dr. Dara Wegman-Geedey

What her professor said to her next changed everything: “I never got an A in a biology class as an undergrad, and here I sit with a Ph.D. You don’t need a 4.0 to go to grad school — I had a 2.87 GPA in college, and maybe two Bs in biology.” 

Dr. Hintzsche did go on to graduate school, earning her master’s and Ph.D. in bioinformatics at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in Dekalb, near Dixon, where she and her family live today. She did her postdoc research in oncology and cancer biology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Denver. 

Seeds planted at Augustana 

Dr. Wegman-Geedey knows many alumni “who are late bloomers.” These are the students who find their footing at Augustana, gain momentum after graduation, and then go on to do great things. 

“During their undergrad years, the goal is to empower them to be thinkers and dreamers,” Dr. Wegman-Geedey said. That empowerment leads to confidence in the doing, as well. 

“What I love about Jenn’s product, the PherDal product, is that she followed that logic that we nudge students to use, even in a research paper. We don’t want them to use these obscure, contrived, really complex concepts. We want them to look at it logically, reduce it down to the common factors, and then consider, ‘What is the next step?’ And that is what she did.”

For Dr. Hintzsche's journey, Dr. Wegman-Geedey said, “It’s not just the science. It’s the ethics, the inquiry, the communication.”

It points to the power of a liberal arts education, and the value of asking good questions. 

With her versatile background, Dr. Hintzsche went from a biology and biochemistry degree at Augustana to becoming NIU’s first Ph.D. graduate in bioinformatics — a program based in computer science — to researching cancer, then applying her scientific, emotional and entrepreneurial skills to the problem of infertility.

‘Good people doing great things’ 

Augustana also gave her a powerful network and community. A former president of Chi Omega Gamma (COG) sorority, Dr. Hintzsche also made a lot of friends in intramurals and as a varsity soccer and basketball player. The number of alumni who invested in PherDal through crowd-funding, she said, is in the hundreds. Currently about 100 Augustana alumni are investors/part owners of PherDal.

COG sisters 20 years later
Hintzsche (back row) and her COG sisters, still best friends

“It’s the power of the relationships that you are able to make, because of the environment that Augie provides,” she said. Augustana alumni form a network of “good people doing great things,” and they inspire her and make her proud. 

Her COG sisters are still her best friends. When she first started thinking about a new, at-home insemination device, Dr. Hintzsche went to a Facebook group of COG alumni spanning 50-plus years. She asked, is anyone out there struggling? Could she send a kit? Does anyone have advice? 

Dr. Karla Loken ’93 responded. As an OB-GYN who mentors medical device startups, Dr. Loken set her on the path to gaining a patent and FDA clearance, and is now one of PherDal’s medical advisors. 

Dr. Hintzsche also heard from her own sorority sisters, and now, “Baby 24 is hopefully a future COG.” 

Thinking about it stirs her emotions. “One in five women will struggle for more than a year to conceive,” she said. Once she had proof of PherDal’s success, she asked herself and her husband, “What if I quit my job and I make Lois-makers? What if we could help other people? How good would that feel?” 

The first PherDal baby, after Lois, was baby Harper. When Harper’s parents brought their seven-week-old to meet Dr. Hintzsche, they thanked her. 

She said to her husband, “I just want to chase this feeling for the rest of my life.”

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