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Ending endometriosis

Major federal grant supports groundbreaking research at the Health Science Center

San Antonio (May 27, 2003) — The results of a groundbreaking study at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC) could finally explain why women develop endometriosis. The gynecological disease affects an estimated 5 percent to 7 percent of all women and can lead to severe, even debilitating, menstrual pain, gastrointestinal problems, infertility and fatigue.

Robert Schenken, M.D., UTHSC professor and chairman of obstetrics and gynecology, and Craig Witz, M.D., UTHSC associate professor and chief of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility, believe the disease is linked to the molecule CD44. The National Institutes of Health has awarded the pair an $894,000 grant to complete their research.

"CD44 is a protein that is expressed on many different cell types, including endometrial cells," Dr. Schenken said. Endometrial cells typically line the uterus and shed during menstruation. Some of these cells flow backward, through the fallopian tubes. In healthy women, the cells are absorbed into the body. In women with endometriosis, the cells attach to the pelvic cavity and form tissue growths or lesions.

Drs. Schenken and Witz believe this happens because of an irregular form of the CD44 molecule that causes endometrial cells to attach, or stick, to peritoneal cells that line the abdominal cavity.

"Nobody knows the exact genetic nature, but if we can determine the specific factors involved with CD44 we can conceivably develop new medical approaches to prevent endometrial cells from attaching," Dr. Schenken said.

Fertility and Sterility and Human Reproduction, both official publications of medical societies, have already published the pair's preliminary research findings. The study began in April and will last four years.

Contact: Amanda Gallagher