Are these the cells that cause endometriosis?
Researchers have hypothesised that highly regenerative cells called endometrial epithelial progenitor cells could lead to the abnormal cell growth in endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a debilitating disease affecting one in 10 women, but its cause is unknown and there is no cure. Many women with endometriosis experience infertility and, despite many suffering crippling pain, it takes on average seven to 10 years for a diagnosis. Besides the financial and emotional cost to patients and their families, endometriosis costs Australia around $5 billion in lost productivity and around $2.5 billion in health care every year.
Professor Caroline Gargett, based at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, is seeking to determine the role of stem cells in the development of endometriosis so that non-hormonal treatments can be developed to prevent or halt the disease. In 2004 she made the world-first discovery of two different stem cells in the endometrium, and in 2017 her team discovered that a protein called N-cadherin could be used as a marker to identify and isolate endometrial epithelial progenitor cells in the uterus.
Collaborating with researchers from the University of Liverpool, UK, Prof Gargett recently examined endometrial samples from 102 women, and found that those with endometriosis had endometrial epithelial progenitor-like cells mixed with cells in the part of the womb lining that is shed during menstruation. The results of her work were published in the journal Human Reproduction.
“These progenitor-like cells come from a deeper basal layer in the endometrium and generally shouldn’t be shed during menstruation,” Prof Gargett said. “These are highly regenerative cells so it’s entirely possible that, in the wrong place, they could initiate endometriosis lesions.
“We believe that these cells may be related to an endometrial epithelial progenitor cell we discovered in the endometrium several years ago. Together, they could form an important piece of the endometriosis puzzle, helping us understand the complexity of the progenitor cells in the endometrium and their likely role in endometriosis.”
While this brings researchers closer to understanding how the endometrium works, more research is needed to find out the actual cell of origin for endometriosis. Hudson Institute research is seeking to generate this knowledge so new targeted treatments can be developed for patients.
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