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School of Medicine Columbia

Discovery offers path to better diagnosis and treatment of endometriosis

Findings from a study completed in Dr. Nagarkatti’s lab were published in the European Journal of Immunology.

Researchers from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine and the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that patients with endometriosis have an increased number of a unique class of cells in their blood. This discovery offers new paths to diagnosis and treat the disorder, which is estimated to affect between 10 percent and 20 percent of American women of childbearing age.

The research was published online by the European Journal of Immunology on Feb. 20 in an article titled “MDSCs drive the process of endometriosis by enhancing angiogenesis and are a new potential therapeutic target.”

Endometriosis is an inflammatory gynecological disorder characterized by the presence of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus, and can result in severe pain, irregular bleeding and infertility.

“Millions of women are affected by this painful condition, but very little has been known about the cause of endometriosis. Currently, laparoscopic surgery is the primary tool for diagnosis and treatments are limited,” says Mitzi Nagarkatti, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at the USC School of Medicine.

The collaborative study indicates patients with endometriosis produce more Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs). The role of these cells in endometriosis was confirmed by the observation that depletion of MDSCS dramatically suppressed development of the condition, while transfer of such cells into normal animals induced endometriosis.

The team also found CXC-chemokines, which are signaling proteins produced at the site of endometriosis, may be responsible for prompting the accumulation of MDSCs. The team is now developing diagnostic tests using MDSC and chemokines as biomarkers and also trying to see if they can block the induction of MDSCs or the chemokines to develop treatment for endometriosis.

“Our studies provide exciting clues suggesting these unique cells called MDSCs may be responsible for inducing endometriosis. This discovery provides new hope for early diagnosis and more effective treatment of this disease,” says Mitzi Nagarkatti and Chi Chiu Wang, Ph.D., professor and division head in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who collaborated on this project.

The portion of this project completed in the United States was funded in part by a grant through the National Institutes of Health: CAM Center for Epigenetic Regulation of Inflammation at the University of South Carolina. The center is led by USC Vice President for Research Prakash Nagarkatti, Ph.D. The research team also included Tao Zhang, Ph.D., a former graduate student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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