By Rowenna Hoskin | Science Editor
It is Endometriosis awareness month and a new study by the University of Edinburgh is searching for an effective treatment.
Endometriosis is a condition where cells that usually grow within the lining of the womb grow elsewhere in the body which can be extremely painful as blood is produced but, unlike a period, has no way to escape the body. A build up of trapped blood can result in internal lesions and scar tissue. Some people experience no symptoms, while others experience pain and can become infertile as a result. Making matters worse, the condition can take years to diagnose and there is no known cure.
The study is looking at thirty women suffering from endometriosis and their reactions to dichloroacetate, a drug that is currently used to treat metabolic conditions in children. It can help to control lactate levels, which have been found to be higher in patients with some cancers and endometriosis.
One of the issues concerning endometriosis is the fact that it has received very little attention in both the media and medical realm of research – and as such diagnosis has been stunted.
1.5 million women in the UK are said to suffer from endometriosis, and Jessica who’s 24, went to hospital 200 times with her initial symptoms before she was correctly diagnosed. These symptoms were initially diagnosed as IBS and coeliac disease, when this was found to be incorrect doctors removed her appendix thinking it was the source of the problems.
Jessica took part in the University of Edinburgh study, a 12-week trial, in which her symptoms dramatically improved.
“The pain decreased immensely. I was able to go and take the dog out and do six-mile walks – and do things that on a daily basis I would not do, or if I did try and do them I would be in a lot of pain.
“It’s definitely changed by life so far, having been on this treatment after so many failed treatments and medications and operations.”
Dichloroacetate’s key benefit is that, unlike every other drug currently used to treat the condition, it is non-hormonal.
Andrew Horne, professor of gynaecology and reproductive sciences, who is leading the study, says: “Clearly endometriosis affects a young female population many of whom are wanting to try and get pregnant, so they don’t want to take hormones; they don’t want to take a contraceptive. So this would be a very different approach.”
While Professor Horne says that it is too early for any conclusive results on the effectiveness of the drug, the findings so far are “exciting”.
The team is hoping to expand and receive enough funding to organise a much larger trial involving upto 400 volunteers.
The work, among other research projects, will be highlighted at the World Congress on Endometriosis.
Current treatment options are limited to repeated surgeries (including full hysterectomies), hormonal drugs or painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol.
The University of Oxford is also undertaking a study concerning endometriosis; scientists are seeking to discover the genetic secrets of the condition.
Over the past three years, Professor Krina Zondervan and her team have been analyzing tissue samples donated by 60,000 patients with endometriosis around the world. It is the largest study of this kind to ever have been undertaken.
The soon-to-be-published work reveals new details about endometriosis, including a confirmation that it is not a single condition. They have uncovered genetic links to other inflammatory conditions such as asthma and osteoarthritis, and pain conditions such as migraines and back pain.
Professor Zondervan says they hope that the new understanding will mean that investigations into which drugs can be used to treat endometriosis.
Ultimately, now that a link has been established, already used drugs could be repurposed – such as one used to treat asthma which could be tweaked to treat endometriosis. This would be a much quicker process than building a drug from scratch.
Emma Cox, CEO of Endometriosis UK, says: “Research is vital, offering hope for those with endometriosis and future generations.
“We need to know so much more to support those living with this chronic disease to manage their sometimes-debilitating symptoms, and to one day find a cure”.
Although the non-hormonal drug treatment is likely to be a few years away, the community who has often felt overlooked and ignored now has hope that there will be a medical breakthrough on the horizon.