Dr. Alison Maclean – Improving survival rates and care for Endometriosis and womb cancer

Dr Alison Maclean, Liverpool Women’s Hospital, was awarded £17,079 over 3 months to investigate endometrial cells to help improve our understanding of diseases such as womb cancer and endometriosis. 

Womb cancer and endometriosis

The endometrium is the inner lining of the womb, and is a fascinating organ that has the remarkable capacity to shed its superficial layer each month during menstruation, called the functional layer, and regenerate the lost cells and tissue from the underlying layer, the basal layer. This occurs in response to fluctuating levels of the hormones produced by the ovaries: oestrogen and progesterone. This process is important, as it enables the human endometrium to facilitate a pregnancy.

However, faults can occur during this complex process of self-regeneration. As a result, gynaecological diseases can develop, such as endometrial (womb) cancer, which is now one of the most common gynaecological cancers in the Western world and is increasing in number, and endometriosis, which is a debilitating condition causing severe pain, and in some cases infertility. Despite these both being relatively common conditions, there is still a great deal unknown about how they develop.

The first step towards increasing our understanding of endometrial diseases is to fully understand the cell from which they develop. This project will aim to use two new techniques to show that different types of epithelial cells exist in the endometrium, and will use these techniques to isolate them and enable cell specific research. The long-term aim of this will be to identify cell types, which can cause certain diseases, and develop cell specific treatments, to improve the survival rates and quality of life of patients with endometrial diseases.


Understanding the endometrium

“I now plan to test the feasibility of using laser capture micro dissection (LCM) to isolate RNA from EECs from the three aforementioned locations in full-thickness endometrial samples to examine the expression of the hormone metabolizing enzyme genes,” Dr. Maclean said.

These samples will then be examined to discover the physical boundaries of EEC subtypes.

Maclean hopes to find methods to identify and characterise EEC sub-populations. She said this “will enable us to perform cell specific research to improve our understanding of diseases such as endometrial cancer and endometriosis.”