Image description: Scientist in lab holding small test tube and pipette
Endometriosis is a chronic condition where tissue similar to the womb lining grows outside the uterus. Symptoms can include pelvic pain which is worse during a period; extreme period pain; pain during or after sex; and difficulty getting pregnant.
Current treatments are limited to hormone therapy and surgery in more extreme cases, which often bring with them unwanted side affects.
However, research undertaken by the University of Oxford in conjunction with Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Bayer AG, may offer new insights into possible treatments.
Researchers performed genetic analyses of humans and rhesus macaques to identify a specific gene that increases the risk of suffering from endometriosis. The results have revealed a potential nonhormonal drug target that may lead to improved therapy and the results have been published in Science Translational Medicine.
In addition to comprehensive genetic studies conducted by Oxford researchers and their partners, a study of more than 11,000 women, including patients with endometriosis and healthy women, identified a specific common variant in the NPSR1 gene also associated with stage III/IV endometriosis.
The results revealed in this research suggest a potential new drug target. As part of this collaboration, researchers at Bayer College of Medicine, in partnership with Oxford University, used an NPSR1 inhibitor to block protein signalling of that gene in cellular assays and then in mouse models of endometriosis. They found this treatment led to reduced inflammation and abdominal pain, common and debilitating endometriosis symptoms, therefore pointing to a potential treatment method for future research into endometriosis.
Krina Zondervan, professor of reproductive and genomic epidemiology, head of the Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health at the University of Oxford and co-director of the Endometriosis CaRe Centre at Oxford says: ‘This is an exciting new development in our quest for new treatments of endometriosis, a debilitating and underrecognized disease affecting 190 million women worldwide. We need to do further research on the mechanism of action and the role of the genetic variants in modulation of the gene’s effects in specific tissues.
‘However, we have a promising new nonhormonal target for further investigation and development that appears to address directly the inflammatory and pain components of the disease.’