Hope has been raised for millions of endometriosis sufferers as scientists have edged one step closer towards a cure.
Researchers took stem cells from patients and managed to reprogram them to become healthy womb tissue in the lab.
Endometriosis occurs when the tissue that lines the uterus is found elsewhere in the body, such as the pelvis, fallopian tubes and sometimes even the eyes.
When these cells break down during a woman’s period, it causes internal bleeding, which can cause agonising discomfort and infertility.
‘This is huge,’ senior author Dr Serdar Bulun, from Northwestern University, said. ‘We’ve opened the door to treating endometriosis.’
Scientists edge closer towards finding a cure for the painful disorder endometriosis (stock)
The researchers took ‘master’ stem cells from the skin and bone marrow of women with endometriosis.
These cells can be engineered to produce any cell or tissue the body needs to repair itself.
Using hormonal treatments, the scientists reprogrammed the stem cells to become healthy endometrial cells in the lab after just two weeks.
Endometrium is the name given to the womb lining.
The study was published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.
Due to the cells being taken from patients themselves, there was no risk they would be rejected, the scientists said.
Although stem cells have previously been turned into tissue found in the heart, liver and pancreas, this is the first study to show it can become uterus lining.
As well as benefiting women’s health, the scientists even believe their study could help combat the opioid crisis in the US, which President Trump has declared a public health emergency.
‘These women with endometriosis start suffering from the disease at a very early age,’ Dr Bulun said.
‘So we end up seeing young high school girls getting addicted to opioids, which totally destroys their academic potential and social lives.’
The next step is to see if diseased endometrial cells can be reprogrammed to become healthy outside of the lab.
WHAT IS ENDOMETRIOSIS?
Endometriosis occurs when cells in the lining of the womb are found elsewhere in the body.
Each month, these cells react in the same way as those in the womb; building up, breaking down and bleeding. Yet, the blood has no way to escape the body.
Symptoms include pain, heavy periods and fatigue, as well as a higher risk of infertility, and bowel and bladder problems.
Its cause is unknown but may be genetic, related to problems with the immune system or exposure to chemicals.
Treatment focuses on pain relief and improving quality of life, which may include surgery or hormone treatment.
Source: Endometriosis UK
Endometriosis is a painful condition that affects around 10 per cent of women.
In the same way the cells of the womb lining break down during a woman’s period, the cells that have traveled elsewhere in the body react in the same way.
However, this internal bleeding has no way of escaping, which leads to inflammation, pain and the formation of scar tissue.
Although endometriosis’ exact cause is unclear, it has been linked to cells in the uterus lining failing to properly respond to the hormone progesterone.
Progesterone thickens the lining of the womb in preparation for the implantation of a fertilised egg.
When progesterone levels fall, a woman has her period, with endometriosis sufferers also bleeding internally.
The researchers, led by Dr Kaoru Miyazaki, found the reprogrammed cells responded well to progesterone.
In the short term, endometriosis has been linked to painful periods and discomfort during sex.
Over the long term, it can cause infertility due to defective cells not properly responding to an embryo.
And, in rare cases, it can even lead to endometrial and ovarian cancer.
Treatment options are limited and include surgery, hormone therapies and pain management. But none have long-term evidence of success.
Uterus transplants have been tried but run the risk of patients rejecting them.
The researchers believe this could be solved by ‘rebuilding’ the womb from a patient’s own cells.
‘One day we hope to make a whole uterus using this cell-based treatment employing the patient’s own cells,’ Dr Bulun, who has been studying endometriosis for 25 years, said.
He added, however, this could be a long shot.