Solutions for women’s reproductive health conditions including endometriosis and endometrial cancer, the most commonly diagnosed gynaecological cancer in Australia, will be accelerated thanks to a discovery by Professor Caroline Gargett’s team in The Ritchie Centre.
The team has found an identifying marker, or unique signature, that could play a significant role in developing new treatments for female reproductive health disorders like endometriosis and endometrial cancer. The marker, N-cadherin, is a protein expressed by adult stem cells called endometrial epithelial progenitor cells (eEPs) and can be used to identify and isolate these rare cells in the uterus.
“The endometrium is an incredibly regenerative tissue. It regrows each month when an embryo does not implant, for approximately 400 times in a woman’s reproductive life. We believe these adult stem cells could play an important role in this process and in menstrual disorders,” Prof Gargett says.
“This discovery means we can investigate the role of these adult stem cells in conditions such as endometrial cancer, endometriosis, adenomyosis and Asherman’s syndrome, which are not well understood,” Prof Gargett said.
Adult stem cells have the remarkable ability to differentiate or grow into functional cells of the tissue. In the uterus, endometrial stem cells are like germinated seeds that can rapidly grow into the new tissue that lines the uterus every month.
Significantly, Prof Gargett’s team believes endometrial epithelial progenitor cells may be responsible for regenerating glands that prepare the womb for the next menstrual cycle, and help in sustaining an embryo until the placenta is fully formed.
“This discovery means we can examine when these cells are behaving normally, such as in menstruation, and when they exhibit uncontrolled growth, such as in endometrial cancer or endometriosis, to find new treatment solutions for women.”
The research, a culmination of eight years of work for the team, was published in the prestigious reproductive biology, obstetrics and gynaecology journal, Human Reproduction.
Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper says, “I would like to congratulate Prof Caroline Gargett and her team at Hudson Institute on this exciting development in further enhancing our knowledge about endometrial cancer.”
“Last year, 747 women were diagnosed with uterine cancer in Victoria alone. Research findings, like those of Prof Gargett, provide hope to cancer patients, as well providing more targeted treatment with fewer side effects.”
WOMEN’S REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH FACTS
ENDOMETRIOSIS: A condition affecting an estimated 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. Endometriosis occurs when tissue that normally lines the uterus is found outside of it, usually in the pelvic cavity. Symptoms can include severe pelvic pain, infertility, heavy periods and nausea.
ADENOMYOSIS: A condition affecting an estimated two per cent of women, where cells that normally line the uterus also grow in the muscle wall of the uterus. Symptoms include abnormal or heavy menstrual bleeding and painful periods.
ENDOMETRIAL CANCER: The most commonly diagnosed gynaecological cancer in Australia, it affects an estimated 1.7 per cent of women. Endometrial cancer arises from the lining of the uterus (endometrium). Endometrial hyperplasia is a condition that can be a precursor of this type of cancer.
ASHERMAN’S SYNDROME: A rare condition where scar tissue is present in the uterus or cervix. This often occurs after a number of surgeries on the uterus, or after a miscarriage. Symptoms can include absent periods, repeated miscarriages and infertility.
Professor Caroline Gargett, Dr Hong Nguyen, Dr Li Xiao, Dr James Deane, Dr Fiona Cousins, Ms Ker Sin Tan, Dr Hirotaka Masuda, Dr Carl Sprung, Associate Professor Anna Rosamilia
Dr Simon Chu
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