THE debilitating condition was one of the most searched for words in 2018, but its cause has remained a mystery until now.
THE debilitating condition was one of the most searched for words in 2018, but its cause has remained a mystery until now.

Endometriosis discovery takes us closer to finding a cure

Scientists claim to have discovered the "cause" of endometriosis - raising hopes for a cure for the agonising condition.

UK researchers found a type of white blood cell, called macrophages, that has mutated or undergone some change could be the prime cause of endometriosis.

The team, from Warwick and Edinburgh Universities, ran various tests on mice and found that targeting the altered cells could be a new treatment.

THE SEARCH FOR A CURE

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 like the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Endometriosis, which affects one in 10 women in Australia, can strike at any age, but it occurs most commonly in women in their 30s and 40s.

The condition can cause persistent inflammation, pain and infertility as well as agonising periods and ovulation.

Surgery can remove some of the scar tissue and lesions caused by endometriosis, while hormonal treatments can offer relief from symptoms.

But these medications carry the risk of side effects after prolonged use.

Without a cure for a condition that affects 176 million women worldwide, an alternative treatment is much needed.

There is no cure for endometriosis, only pain management and hormonal treatments.
There is no cure for endometriosis, only pain management and hormonal treatments.

THE KEY IS MACROPHAGES

Previous studies have already shown macrophages play a central role in the development of endometriosis.

The immune cells help the lesions grow and also drive the development of their blood supply.

More recent studies have also revealed macrophages help nerves grow in the lesions, which could lead to increased pain around these areas.

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".

Celebrities such as Girls star Lena Dunham and Sophie Monk have raised awareness about the condition in recent years, sharing brutally honest posts about the debilitating pain it causes.

Last year Australian entertainer Emma Watkins, better known for playing Yellow Wiggle Emma, announced she was taking time out from touring to undergo surgery for the chronic condition, revealing she had suffered "a lot of pain for the past couple of years".

Emma Watkins has Yellow Wiggle Emma. Picture: Chris Scott
Emma Watkins has Yellow Wiggle Emma. Picture: Chris Scott

Senior study author Dr Erin Greaves explained conventional endometriosis treatments that use hormones are "not ideal" because they target ovarian function and can trigger side effects like suppressed fertility.

"We are trying to find non-hormonal solutions," Dr Greaves said.

The team found "disease-modified" macrophages stimulate nerve-cell growth and activity by releasing the growth hormone insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).

The researchers also found levels of IGF-1 in endometriosis sufferers' pelvic cavity tissue were higher than in women without the condition and were in line with their pain scores.

Further tests revealed preventing the hormone's activity by blocking the cell receptor for IGF-1 "reverses the pain behaviour observed in mice with endometriosis".

"If we can learn about the role of macrophages in endometriosis then we can distinguish them from healthy macrophages and target treatment to them," Dr Greaves said.

This story originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission


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