Globally, millions of women are suffering in silence from a condition shrouded in ignorance, which physicians often fail to diagnose and scientists have yet to fully understand.
This condition is endometriosis: a disease wherein the lining of the uterus starts to spread and grow in inappropriate places such as the abdomen and on the ovaries. This lining will shed and bleed every month, just like the lining of the uterus does during a regular menstrual cycle. With time, as the body responds to the spread of the uterine lining, small nerve fibres which conduct pain start to grow within the tissue. The symptoms of this phenomenon include chronic pelvic pain, heavy painful periods and pain during sex. Further, recent studies suggest that endometriosis might be responsible for up to half of all unexplained infertility cases in women. The Greaves lab at the Queen’s Medical Research Institute aims to examine the characteristics of the immune cells and the nerve fibres involved, to understand what role they play in the disease. Previous studies have shown how these immune cells are directly involved in the pain caused by endometriosis. Specifically, they trigger the generation of nerve fibres which conduct pain signals. While this is a good start, there is still a lot left to understand about endometriosis, including the underlying mechanism through which immune cells interact with the tissue and surrounding nerve fibres. Fortunately, endometriosis has recently garnered the attention of mainstream media, which could mean increased research funding and large strides toward better understanding and treatment. Furthermore, improved diagnoses will be made now that physicians are better informed. Importantly, women can take comfort in knowing there is a name that can be put on their suffering and one day, hopefully, a cure.