The painful syndromes of endometriosis could be reduced with a drug that was once investigated as a possible cancer treatment, according to new research.
Researchers found that using dichloroacetate to treat the cells of women with endometriosis lowered the production of lactate, a potentially harmful waste product, and stopped abnormal cell growth.
Endometriosis – which affects 176 million women worldwide – is caused by the growth of lesions made up of tissue similar to the lining of the womb in other parts of the body, such as the lining of the pelvis and ovaries.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that cells from the pelvic wall of women with endometriosis have different metabolism compared to women without the disease.
The cells produced higher amounts of lactate similar to the behaviour of cancer cells.
When the cells from women with endometriosis were treated with dichloroacetate, they were found to return to normal metabolic behaviour.
The scientists also noted a reduction in lactate and an impact on the growth of endometrial cells grown together with the pelvic cells.
Further tests on a mouse model of endometriosis found, after seven days, a marked reduction in lactate concentrations and the size of lesions.
Currently available treatments for endometriosis are either hormone-based, which can produce unpleasant side effects, or surgery, which in half of cases, results in lesions returning after five years.
The researchers believe these new findings could help alleviate endometriosis in women who cannot – or do not wish to – take hormonal treatments or prevent recurrence after surgery.
The team are conducting an early phase clinical trial to confirm their findings.
Lead researcher, Professor Andrew Horne, MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at University of Edinburgh, said: “Endometriosis can be a life-changing condition for so many women.
“Now that we understand better the metabolism of the cells in women that have endometriosis, we can work to develop a non-hormonal treatment.
“Through a clinical trial with dichloroacetate we should be able to see if the conditions we observed in the lab are replicated in women.”
‘I was in pain all day, every day’
Dr Sandra Engstrom welcomed the research and said she’s “encouraged” women could now have an additional option for treatment.
Dr Engstrom, who was diagnosed with endometriosis more than a decade ago, told STV News: “I’m very encouraged and I think a lot of that has to do more with having another option.
“For women with endometriosis there’s traditionally only been two main options for women post-diagnosis and that’s surgery or hormonal options, so to just have a third option and just have that choice is a really reassuring option to have.”
The University of Stirling lecturer described herself as “lucky” as she was diagnosed within the space of two years. She said most women face an average wait of seven years or more.
She said: “For me it was the typical kind of really painful periods and I’d be in pain all day, every day, and I wouldn’t really be able to walk.
“And again, I’m very lucky I’ve only had one surgery.
“Post-surgery I was put on the hormonal contraceptive pill and just took that for a very long time.
“I’m currently not on anything. But I’d say the biggest impact for me is actually not the pain, it’s the fatigue.
“It’s almost like you have those weighted-blankets that you hear about.
“Like having two or three kind of around you and on top of you, and your body just can’t move.”
Dr Engstrom believes the research is encouraging that more is being done to study the condition and those affected.
She added: “I’m hoping that it also gives some hope to people that have endometriosis that the medical profession and medical researchers are listening and are paying attention to their needs and their wishes, and the fact that they want another choice, they want another option of how to manage the symptoms.
“I’m hopeful that will also be felt in the wider community.”
‘We are delighted that Professor Andrew Horne’s new treatment going to clinical trial could hugely impact so many women’s lives.’Janet Lindsay, CEO of Wellbeing of Women
The research – funded by the charity Wellbeing of Women and supported by PwC and the Medical Research Council UK – was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Janet Lindsay, CEO of Wellbeing of Women, added: “More than 176 million women suffer from endometriosis yet few people have heard of it, and treatment, which can impact fertility, has progressed very little for over 40 years.
“This is why we are so excited by the findings of this research that Wellbeing of Women has funded and which could lay the basis for the first new non-hormonal treatment offering women a life-changing option.
“We are delighted that Professor Andrew Horne’s new treatment going to clinical trial could hugely impact so many women’s lives.”