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Funding for a five-year, $3 million multi-centre collaborative study into the causes of endometriosis has been awarded by the US National Institutes of Health to Oxford Professors Krina Zondervan and Christian Becker, Directors of the Oxford Endometriosis CaRe Centre.

The symptoms of Endometriosis include painful periods, painful ovulation, pain during or after sex, abnormal bleeding, chronic pelvic pain, fatigue, and infertility, and it can also impact on general physical, mental and social well being. Shutterstock

Endometriosis affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide during their most reproductive and productive years, causing debilitating symptoms of pelvic pain and reduced fertility.  Many of these women struggle daily with the symptoms of endometriosis.  Lack of awareness of the disease and the need for surgery to establish a diagnosis leads to an average diagnostic delay of up to seven years. Treatments are limited to hormonal treatments with many side-effects and complex surgical removal of disease which often needs to be repeated.

The project aims to find epigenetic changes in endometrial tissues related to endometriosis, to better understand the disease development and potential causes. The funded work builds on Oxford's long track record of understanding the genetic and environmental origins of endometriosis with the aim of finding new drug targets as well as non-invasive biomarkers for the disease.

Professor Becker said: "Endometriosis can be devastating for the women who suffer from it and their families. This is why it is so important that research like this is funded to help find the cause, develop novel treatments as well as look at prevention of the disease."

Professor Zondervan commented: "We are delighted to receive this NIH funding, supporting a multi-centre collaboration with UCSF and Harvard University in the USA, and the Universities of Queensland and Melbourne in Australia. The study will shed light on how the genetics underlying the disease we have identified so far, together with non-genetic factors, impacts on tissues in women with endometriosis.  This information can then be used to identify new drug targets or methods of diagnosing disease."

The work will utilise for the first time standardised detailed data and sample collection tools for endometriosis developed by the WERF Endometriosis Phenome and Biobanking Harmonisation Project (EPHect), a global initiative led by Professors Becker and Zondervan in Oxford and Professor Stacey Missmer at Harvard involving more than 30 academic and industry partners. 

More information is available from the World Endometriosis Foundation.