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The biomarker studies form an integral part of the basic, translational and clinical research programme currently offered within the Endometriosis CaRe Centre, and are closely linked to the genomic epidemiology programme.

Biomarkers for Endometriosis, Uterine Fibroids and Other Gynaecological Diseases

This outline describes our research in molecular biomarker discovery within the Endometriosis CaRe Centre (Nuffield Dept. of Obstetrics & Gynaecology), and opportunities for DPhil and MSc projects therein.

The biomarker studies form an integral part of the basic, translational and clinical research programme currently offered within the Endometriosis CaRe Centre, and are closely linked to the genomic epidemiology programme.    

Endometriosis, characterised by the presence of tissue resembling endometrium (the lining of the uterus) outside the uterus is associated with pelvic pain and reduced fertility affecting an estimated 176 million women worldwide. Current treatments are limited to surgical removal of lesions, with high recurrence rates, and/or hormonal medication with many side effects. A definitive diagnosis requires surgery which as an invasive procedure is associated with risks. Therefore, non-invasive biomarkers represent a large unmet clinical need. Our group focuses on biomarker discovery in endometriosis. We demonstrated the potential role e.g. of matrix metalloproteinases and other proteins in the urine of endometriosis patients and in pre-clinical models (Becker et al. 2010; El-Kasti et al. 2011). We also previously investigated the role of angiogenesis and the potential of antiangiogenic therapy (Becker et al. 2011; Webster, Kennedy, and Becker 2013) in endometriosis.    

In 2012 we launched the ENDOX study, wherein we collect relevant biological samples including endometrium, endometriotic and uterine fibroid tissue, fat, blood, urine, saliva, peritoneal fluid as well as detailed standardised clinical and surgical data from women undergoing surgery. Using standardised WERF/EPHect protocols, this enables us to undertake large-scale collaborations (www.endometriosisfoundation.org/ephect). Clinical samples are analysed by cutting edge molecular biology methods (qRT-PCR, laser capture microdissection, microarray, immunoblot, proteomics, microvesicle and exosome analysis), and the results are combined with the extensive clinical data to identify prospective biomarkers of disease.    

A number of potential laboratory-based DPhil projects are available within the group, to be tailored to a candidate’s preferences (e.g. some may contain genomic computational elements):    

• The analysis of microRNA (miRNA) in sample tissues and correlation with patient data in order to identify prospective biomarkers of endometriosis, uterine fibroids or other gynaecological diseases  

• Proteomics and metabolomics studies to unravel the mechanisms of endometriosis symptoms (chronic inflammation, pain, reduced fertility)  

• Characterisation of microvesicle and exosome populations from patient material and correlation with patient data in order to understand their role in disease and test them as biomarkers  

• Understanding the biology of the blood vessels in the pseudocapsule of leiomyomata in order to identify novel treatment options  

Training opportunities

We are a multi-disciplinary, dynamic group based at both the Endometriosis CaRe Centre (Nuffield Dept. of Obstetrics & Gynaecology) and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics (WTCHG) with strong links to other centres locally (e.g. the Oxford Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain, FMRIB). Students will benefit from an exciting clinical and basic research environment in the world’s leading University.

The Endometriosis CaRe centre focuses on the integration of clinical diagnosis, care and treatment of the disease with clinical and basic research. Students will be strongly encouraged to publish their work, present at international conferences, attend lab meetings, journal clubs, departmental seminars and training courses. We have a strong focus on excellence and promote leadership in our trainees.  Projects will allow extensive opportunity to gain knowledge and experience of state-of the-art laboratory, computational, statistical, and technological methodologies for the analysis of human samples and patient data such as genotyping microarray/sequencing, protein and nucleic acid analysis, and exosome/microvesicle biology.

Students will benefit from our close local, national and international collaborations with leading centres in the fields of endometriosis, statistical genetics, genomics, bioinformatics, and functional biology.

supervisors

Professor Christian Becker, Dr Thomas Tapmeier and Professor Krina Zondervan

Funding opportunities

We invite both funded and unfunded applicants, though we currently do not have funded DPhil projects in place. For eligible applicants without secured funding we are happy to advise on the potential (competitive) scholarship routes available and would be happy to assist in applying to relevant funding bodies.