The findings of a brand-new research study could potentially help resolve two long-standing questions in endometriosis research: what causes endometriosis and how can it be treated?
Research teams from Northwestern University and Tokyo's Keio University School of Medicine recently published the results of their ground-breaking study in the medical journal, Stem Cell Reports. The study zeroed in on a known culprit in endometriosis: defective Endometrial Stromal Fibroblast (EMSF) cells.
These cells make up the tissue that comprises the endometrium, or the lining of the uterus. In a healthy uterus, the cells respond to progesterone during a monthly menstrual cycle, helping to prepare the uterus for potential implantation of a fertilized egg. Women with endometriosis, however, have EMSF's that do not properly respond to progesterone, meaning that the cells do not function in a menstrual cycle the way they should.
So, the researchers pondered: what if we reprogram those uterine cells?
In other studies, cell replacement therapies have been used in many different medical fields to substitute damaged or lost cells with their proper functioning counterparts. However, this form of therapy has yet to break into the field of endometriosis research.
The first part of cell replacement therapy consists of creating the cells that will replace the diseased cells. The process begins with the collection of stem cells known as IPSCs. The stem cells are collected from a patient's blood or bone marrow, wiped of their cellular memory and reprogrammed to be the desired cell type. The effort greatly diminishes the risk of the body rejecting the cells as they are native to that patient, not a donor.
The Northwestern and Keio researchers say, using this approach, they have indeed found a way to successfully reprogram the stem cells into healthy uterine cells— a ground-breaking feat.
"This is huge. We've opened the door to treating endometriosis," says senior author Dr. Serdar Bulun, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and an endometriosis researcher of 25 years. "One day we hope to make a whole uterus using this cell-based treatment employing the patient's own iPS cells."
The implications of this study’s findings are vast. Not only could these newly created cells potentially be used to replace the defective cells in an endometriosis patient, but the new cells could also be used to create models to study endometriosis disease progression.
Adds Bulun, "These women with endometriosis start suffering from the disease at a very early age, so we end up seeing young high school girls getting addicted to opioids, which totally destroys their academic potential and social lives."