About 10% of women of childbearing age suffer from endometriosis. A team of bioengineers and gynecologists at Oregon State University (OSU) proposes a new nanotechnology approach to locate and treat the harmful lesions associated with the painful condition known as endometriosis, a common gynecological disease found in women of childbearing age. The nanoparticles that can target these lesions are described in the journal Small.
Endometriosis Quick facts
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 35% and 50% of women suffering from pelvic pain and/or infertility have endometriosis. Approximately 190 million women worldwide suffer from endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a chronic, painful disease in which uterine tissue grows inappropriately and ends up outside the uterus. Current treatments are limited and include surgery and hormone therapy, which can have unwanted side effects. It is therefore a “debilitating systemic disease and effective non-surgical treatment is needed.”
The endometrium is the inside layer of the uterus, and endometriosis takes place when the tissue of the endometrium moves outside the uterine cavity usually to the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and pelvic tissues. In rare cases, endometrial tissue can spread outside the pelvic area.
Even though there is no cure for endometriosis at the moment, surgical removal of the lesions can still improve outcomes. The downside, however, is that the lesions return about half the time and more than a quarter of patients operated on for endometriosis require three or more operations because it is difficult to remove all the diseased tissue. Thankfully endometriosis is not a malignant condition, but the lesions that it causes can sometimes cause affected organs to perforate which can lead to life-threatening situations. Pain therapies lead to infertility, and patients who want to improve their fertility often ask for surgical removal of the lesions. And unfortunately, not only is the recurrence rate high, but complications from surgery are common.
Lead authors Oleh Taratula of Oregon State University’s College of Pharmacy and Ov Slayden of Oregon Health & Science University designed these magnetic nanoparticles and are now testing them in an animal model of endometriosis. This preclinical study provides the first evidence that these iron oxide nanoparticles, injected intravenously, accumulate in lesions, making them clearly visible on imaging, including MRI.
Nanoparticles, used as both markers and treatment: exposed to an alternating magnetic field, the temperature of the nanoparticles rises to more than 50°C, a temperature high enough to eliminate lesions.
Magnetic hyperthermia was not previously considered a possible technique for ablating endometriosis lesions because other magnetic nanoparticles have relatively low heating efficiency. Here, the scientists overcame these limitations by developing hexagonal nanoparticles that heat up six times more than conventional spherical nanoparticles when exposed to a varying magnetic field. By modifying the nanoparticles with a peptide – several amino acids linked in a chain – that targets a cellular receptor abundant in endometriosis cells, they can also accumulate better in endometriosis lesions.