Scientists discover ’cause’ of endometriosis – raising hopes of first cure for agonising condition – The Sun
SCIENTISTS claim to have discovered the "cause" of endometriosis – raising hopes for a cure for the agonising condition.
Researchers found a type of white blood cell, called macrophages, which has undergone changes could be the prime cause.
The team, from Warwick and Edinburgh universities, ran various tests on mice and say that targeting the altered cells could be a novel treatment.
Currently, there is no cure for endometriosis – a lifelong condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Endometriosis, which affects 1 in 10 women in the UK, can occur at any age, but it's most common in women in their 30s and 40s.
It can cause persistent inflammation, pain and infertility as well as agonising periods and ovulation.
Surgery can remove some of the scar tissue and lesions, while hormonal treatments can offer relief from symptoms – but can carry the risk of side effects after prolonged use.
Without a cure for a condition that affects 176 million worldwide, an alternative treatment is much needed.
Previous studies had already shown that macrophages have a central role in the development of endometriosis.
Symptoms of endometriosis
Endometriosis is where cells like the ones in the lining of the womb (uterus) are found elsewhere in the body.
Each month, these cells react in the same way to those in the womb – building up and then breaking down and bleeding. Unlike the cells in the womb that leave the body as a period, this blood has no way to escape.
That can lead to infertility, fatigue, bowel and bladder problems, as well as really heavy, painful periods.
It affects one in ten women in the UK.
- Painful, heavy, or irregular periods
- Pain during or after sex
- Chronic pain
- Painful bowel movements
The cause of endometriosis is unknown and there is no definite cure.
According to Endometriosis UK, it takes over seven years on average for women to finally receive a diagnosis.
It's estimated that up to 50 per cent of infertile women has the condition.
Source: Endometriosis UK
The immune cells help the lesions grow and also drive the development of their blood supply.
More recent research has also revealed that macrophages help nerves grow in the lesions.
The aim of the new study, published in a recent Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal paper, "was to determine the mechanistic role of macrophages in producing pain associated with endometriosis."
Senior study author Dr Erin Greaves, who holds positions at both universities, explained that conventional treatments that use hormones are "not ideal" because they target ovarian function and can trigger side effects, such as suppressing fertility.
She added: "We are trying to find non-hormonal solutions."
The team found that "disease-modified" macrophages stimulate nerve cell growth and activity by releasing the growth hormone insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).
They also found that levels of IGF-1 in pelvic cavity tissue from women with endometriosis were higher than in women without the condition and were in line with their pain scores.
Further tests revealed that preventing the hormone's activity by blocking the cell receptor for IGF-1, "reverses the pain behaviour observed in mice with endometriosis."
Dr Greaves added: "If we can learn about the role of macrophages in endometriosis then we can distinguish them from healthy macrophages and target treatment to them."
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