Endometriosis is a chronic condition where endometrium – tissue that usually lines the womb – is found outside the uterus, responding in a similar way to cyclic hormone fluctuations (including bleeding) during a period every month.
For many women who have it – 1.6 million in the UK and 190 million worldwide – it causes debilitating pelvic pain and in some cases, reduced fertility. It has a huge impact on women’s personal and working lives; it’s estimated to cost the UK economy £8.2 billion a year in treatment, lost working hours and healthcare.
Women often ask their doctors what causes their disease and whether it means they’re at greater risk of other conditions. There have been reports of women with endometriosis also suffering from chronic autoimmune diseases, and the question whether there is a link is rated by women and doctors among the top unanswered questions.
This is why Professor Krina Zondervan wants to look into whether there a potential link between endometriosis and risk of having an autoimmune disease.
In her project, Unravelling the association between endometriosis and auto-immune diseases, Professor Zondervan and her team will investigate whether there is a connection between endometriosis and autoimmune diseases and if so, investigate the biology underlying this connection.
To look into it, Professor Zondervan’s team will use the UK Biobank, a large collection of medical and biological data and tissue samples. They will use information from 273,462 women including 5,940 women diagnosed with endometriosis and 14,897 women diagnosed with a variety of auto-immune diseases.
They will also use genetic data from other large data banks worldwide.
Using this data, they will find out if women with endometriosis are more at risk of different autoimmune diseases compared to women without. They’ll also see if there’s a genetic connection between the conditions. The work will boost experts’ understanding of how diseases work and help them to develop treatments for endometriosis with fewer side effects.
Once completed, Professor Zondervan’s work will help experts understand these diseases and provide insight into new ways of helping thousands of women.