Around 10 percent of women worldwide are living with endometriosis, a painful gynecological condition where tissue similar to the womb lining (called “the endometrium”) forms outside of the uterus, usually in the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, and the tissue lining the pelvis. Although there is no known cure for the condition, these unwanted lesions can be removed in surgery. However, the results can vary, with lesions returning in about half of cases and more than one-quarter of patients needing three or more operations to remove all of the diseased tissue.
In order to improve treatments for endometriosis a team of scientists from Oregon, have developed a nanotechnology-based technique to more precisely locate and remove the lesions associated with the disorder. Detailed in the journal small, nanoparticles are loaded with a dye, which can generate a fluorescence signal and heat that destroys cells under near-infrared light. Of importance was finding a nanoparticle that sought out the target areas.
“The challenge has been to find the right type of nanoparticles,” Olena Taratula, one of the lead researchers from the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy, said in a statement. “Ones that can predominantly accumulate in endometriotic lesions without toxic effect on the body, while preserving their imaging and heating properties.”
Using a clinically relevant animal model of endometriosis, the team demonstrated that the nanoparticles effectively grouped in the endometrial tissue 24 hours after they were administered. When the team placed the region under near-infrared laser light, the nanoparticles reached temperatures of up to 46.1°C (115 °F) – enough to kill off the lesions.
“The heat is produced under near-infrared laser light that is harmless to tissue without the presence of the nanoparticles,” Taratula continued. “The generated heat eradicates the endometrial lesions completely within a day or two.”
Endometriosis is a chronic and debilitating condition, affecting women and girls of childbearing age. Symptoms include painful periods, pain during or after sexual intercourse, heavy bleeding, chronic pelvic pain and in some cases, infertility. The pain arises because, unlike the endometrial cells in the womb lining, the similar cells in the lesions have no way to escape the body as they too build up and break down in response to a female’s hormonal cycle.
In order to advance Taratula and his team's work to human clinical trials, studies in animals that develop endometriosis in a similar way to humans (such as macaques) need to be carried out. But Taratula remains hopeful that their technique can one day help to treat this devastating disease.
“We believe that our developed strategy can eventually shift the current paradigm for endometriosis detection and treatment,” said Taratula.
“Dr Slayden [professor at the Oregon National Primate Research Center and study co-author] and I built this team years ago to help surgeons to better visualize and treat endometriosis lesions, and we’re getting close.”