Dr Helen Clarke – improving treatment for endometriosis

Dr Helen Clarke, Liverpool Women’s Hospital/University of Liverpool: £18,904 over 12 months


Up to 15 percent of women of reproductive age are affected by endometriosis – over 1.5 million women in UK. Endometriosis is estimated to costs the NHS an estimate of £2bn every year.

“Despite this being a common condition, there is still a great deal unknown about the manner in which the disease develops,” said Dr Helen Clarke.

Endometriosis can have a significant impact on young women’s life, causing pelvic pain, painful periods and infertility. Currently, the diagnosis requires surgical intervention and the treatment strategies are contraceptive based, which has implications for their fertility.

Endometriosis is a condition whereby cells from the lining of the uterus spread to other organs. The spread of these cells shares many characteristics with malignant cancer cells, however in endometriosis the process is entirely benign.

Dr Helen Clarke is working with to Dr Hapangami to study these endometriosis cells in order to understand how they develop. The aim of the project is to pave a way for new treatments and diagnostics.

The role of enzymes

“Our preliminary data shows that human endometrial cells express one of the key enzymes identified, MAP4K4,” Dr Clarke said. 

This enzyme causes spread of the ectopic cells beyond the primary location.

Past endometriosis research has discovered potential therapeutic targets, but effective medical treatment strategies have been ineffective in treating the condition.

“When a patient has cancer, the cells begin to rapidly multiply as normal cellular control mechanisms fail,” Dr Helen Clarke said. “As the disease progresses, small deposits of cancer (metastases) can be found elsewhere in the body.”

Research has been able to identify key enzymes that may play a role in enabling cells to migrate and become invasive.

“This has not only the potential to be a target for cancer therapies, but also an effective treatment for endometriosis.”