Endometriosis – improving women’s health

Our scientists

  • Professor Caroline Gargett

    Professor Caroline Gargett is an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow and heads the Endometrial Stem Cell Biology laboratory in The Ritchie Centre, Hudson Institute of Medical Research.

    In 2004, Prof Gargett discovered two types of adult stem cells in the human endometrium, or the lining of the uterus. Her laboratory now specialises in endometrial stem cell biology, through the characterisation of these cells in humans and animal models. Her research has attracted international awards, including an award from the Endometriosis Foundation of America.

    Prof Gargett’s research aims to determine the role of endometrial adult stem cells in the development of endometriosis lesions in women and teenage girls. Through the discovery of specific markers for these adult stem cells, Prof Gargett hopes to understand how endometriosis develops, and target non-hormonal therapies to the stem cells during menstruation to prevent the initiation and progression of endometriosis. She is also working to determine if uterine bleeding in newborn girls is a biomarker of future endometriosis.

    Prof Gargett chose to study the role of endometrial stem cells in endometriosis because she is fascinated by the regenerative capacity of the endometrium. Having discovered these stem cells in the lining of the uterus, she believes that stem cells, which are known for their regenerative role in other areas of the body, must mediate the process of endometrial growth following menstruation, and therefore play a role in endometriosis.

  • Professor Lois Salamonsen

    Professor Lois Salamonsen is head of the Endometrial Remodelling laboratory in the Centre for Reproductive Health at Hudson Institute of Medical Research.

    She has devoted her career to progressing women’s health research and improving quality of life for the millions of women affected by gynaecological conditions including endometriosis, infertility and abnormal uterine bleeding.

    Prof Salamonsen is a world authority on the biology of the endometrium and conditions related to this highly regenerative lining of the womb. Her work has made important contributions to the understanding of menstruation, female infertility and endometriosis. Her research is now focused on improving early diagnosis, treatment and clinical management of these conditions.

    Prof Salamonsen’s team is researching the fallopian tubes to find answers to the question of why only one in 10 women develop endometriosis. In almost all women, whether or not they have endometriosis, menstrual fluid flows not only out of the vagina as menstrual blood, but also backwards through the fallopian tubes and out into the pelvic cavity. Her team is investigating whether there are marked differences in the fallopian tubes of women with endometriosis that enable endometrial cells, which are shed at menstruation, to implant in the pelvic cavity and form painful lesions.

    Prof Salamonsen is passionate about ensuring that women’s health conditions like endometriosis receive the attention they deserve, relative to their impact.

  • Dr Fiona Cousins

    Dr Fiona Cousins is a postdoctoral scientist who studies the endometrium (inner lining of the womb) at Hudson Institute of Medical Research.

    Her main research projects include understanding how stem cells in the endometrium may contribute to normal repair mechanisms that occur following a woman’s period (menstruation) and also how these stem cells may be involved in endometriosis, a chronic disease caused by the presence of endometrial fragments outside of the womb.

    Dr Cousins’ current research aims to determine whether stem cells may be involved in the establishment and progression of endometriosis.

    Dr Cousins’ interest in women’s health began during her Honours year. She studied the biology of the ovaries, before finding her passion for the endometrium and its function during her PhD studies. Her PhD focused on mechanisms that contribute to the repair of the endometrium during each menstrual cycle, and how endometrial disorders may arise in some women.

    Dr Cousins chose to pursue endometriosis research because little is known about why some women develop endometriosis, whilst others do not. Understanding how the establishment of lesions occurs will aid future research into targeted drug therapies.

  • Dr James Deane

    Dr James Deane is a research scientist at Hudson Institute of Medical Research. Dr Deane’s studies investigate how the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) regenerates.

    Dr Deane’s work aims to understand normal endometrial regeneration, and how improper regulation of endometrial regeneration might cause infertility and disease. A key focus is to understand the causes of endometriosis, a common condition where the endometrium escapes the uterus and causes painful growths on other organs.

    His research focuses on two types of endometrial adult stem cells found in the lining of the uterus – mesenchymal stem cells and epithelial progenitor cells – and how these might be implicated in the development of endometriosis.

    Endometriosis is a debilitating disease, but it is still unclear exactly why endometriosis occurs and current treatments are limited. A better understanding of the biology underlying endometrial regeneration is likely to lead to better treatments for conditions like endometriosis.

  • Dr Hayley Dickinson

    Dr Hayley Dickinson is a reproductive physiologist in The Ritchie Centre at Hudson Institute of Medical Research. Her research is aimed at improving the health of women and their babies. Her recent discovery that spiny mice menstruate – just like women – is set to revolutionise research into menstruation and menstrual disorders like endometriosis.

    A reproductive physiologist by training, Dr Dickinson’s discovery of the unique characteristic of menstruation in spiny mice has attracted attention from researchers around the world. This has also led Dr Dickinson’s research team into tackling the overwhelming scale of menstrual problems in women.

    Dr Dickinson is now working to establish a realistic animal model of endometriosis, using spiny mice. This would enable researchers to undertake preclinical studies to better understand the disorder and develop new means of detection and treatment, which may lead to clinical trials.

    She is excited about the prospect of making real progress towards reducing the burden of endometriosis and other ‘women’s problems’. Dr Dickinson would like to see progress for endometriosis through research. She’s ready to seize the opportunity to make a real impact.

  • Dr Tracey Edgell

    Dr Tracey Edgell is a research scientist at Hudson Institute of Medical Research, where she studies the human endometrium, which is the tissue that lines a woman’s uterus and is a key component in the process of pregnancy.

    Dr Edgell’s research is focused on women with infertility that arises from diagnosed gynaecological conditions, such as endometriosis, or unexplained infertility. Her work aims to improve IVF treatments and outcomes for these women.

    She has recently developed a test to predict the likelihood of a woman having a successful IVF round by detecting concentrations of certain pro-inflammatory cytokines in uterine fluid. Dr Edgell is now looking to develop a minimally invasive test to determine whether endometriosis is the cause of infertility in women undergoing IVF.

    She is also working on projects examining how we might modify the endometrium to improve pregnancy rates amongst women seeking help to start a family.

    Dr Edgell chose to pursue research in women’s infertility because, contrary to popular belief, IVF does not always hold the answer for many women who are unable to start a family. By bringing her expertise in proteins and assays to this often overlooked area of research, she hopes to assist in improving treatment options and pregnancy success rates.

  • Dr Jemma Evans

    Dr Jemma Evans has worked in the field of endometrial biology for 13 years and is a research scientist at Hudson institute of Medical Research.

    She is passionate about women’s reproductive health and fascinated by the endometrium and periods – she likes to talk about the taboo things that others avoid.

    Having struggled with the gynaecological condition adenomyosis and helped her sister through diagnosis of endometriosis, Dr Evans knows how important it is for women to speak up about their health and their periods so problems can be tackled early. Her goal is achieving healthy reproductive health for all women through clinically relevant translational research.

    Her current projects aim to identify factors within the endometrium that are altered in women with endometriosis and develop a non-invasive early detection test to identify women who have endometriosis.

  • Professor Paul Hertzog

    Professor Paul Hertzog is head of the Centre for Innate Immunity and Infectious Diseases at Hudson Institute of Medical Research, and an internationally recognised authority on the molecules that organise our body’s immune response.

    In 2004, Prof Hertzog’s laboratory discovered a novel molecule called interferon epsilon, which is produced by the cells that line the female reproductive tract, where it signals to immune cells to protect this area from infection, as well as regulating inflammation and anti-tumour responses. His group characterised this protein in 2013.

    Endometriosis displays many of the same characteristics as the diseases regulated by interferon epsilon, such as the uncontrolled growth of endometrial cells in the peritoneum. Prof Hertzog’s team has already shown that interferon epsilon regulates the growth of endometrial cells and may even stop the growth of ovarian cancer cells in the peritoneum. The team is looking to investigate the role of interferon epsilon in the pathogenesis of endometriosis, including as a potential treatment.

    Endometriosis is a prevalent, painful, yet poorly understood disease, with many of the features of inflammatory disorders, infections and cancer. Prof Hertzog believes that applying principles learnt from studying the immunology of infectious disease and cancer will provide a novel approach to endometriosis—particularly since his group has discovered that interferon epsilon seems ‘fit for purpose’ to control an array of reproductive tract diseases.