MedUni Vienna: Promising biomarker identified for diagnosing endometriosis

Ingrid Flick provides landmark private funding to boost medical research to benefit women's health

For a long time now, endometriosis has been the subject of intense research at the Medical University of Vienna. It affects around 300,000 women in Austria alone: it is not yet known what causes it and it is often difficult to diagnose. There are now new, groundbreaking findings, obtained from an innovative, endometriosis-specific blood and tissue bank. This advance was made possible by secured long-term private funding from businesswoman Ingrid Flick. The project entitled I.N.G.R.I.D. (Interdisciplinary New Gynecological Research Group In the field of endometriotic Disease) secures long-term funding of a six-figure euro amount for MedUni Vienna research projects in the field of endometriosis. One of these projects has now discovered a highly promising biomarker for the disease.

"I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Mrs Flick for her generous contribution to our university. Private initiatives such as this are crucial if Vienna is to evolve as a research location from its current leading position in Europe to become a global leader," explains MedUni Vienna Rector Markus Müller. "Mrs Flick's generous contribution joins a huge fundraising initiative on the part of MedUni Vienna to construct a center for precision medicine and digital medicine on MedUni's General Hospital Campus."

Says Flick: "Austria needs more private funding projects in the medical sector"
"It is essential for all research activities to ensure that projects can run over an extended period on a secure financial footing. That is why I am lending my support. Medical research in particular has enormous potential to improve the lives of those affected by providing new knowledge. I therefore believe it would be a good thing if, in future, there were to be far more private funding projects in the medical-scientific sector than is currently the case," says Ingrid Flick, who has been an active supporter of science and research for many years now.  

I was made aware of the subject of endometriosis and the associated need for research during conversations with doctors. At the same time I heard about exemplary private funding projects that had produced groundbreaking new findings. This was the basis for my decision to grant long-term funding to the Medical University of Vienna to conduct research into endometriosis. It is important to me that the funding goes towards targeted research, in order to help improve the quality of life for women who suffer from this condition."

Ingrid Flick met the Rector of the Medical University of Vienna, Markus Müller and Heiner Heinrich Husslein and his team to find out about the progress that had been made in the I.N.G.R.I.D. research project, which runs from 2015 to 2017, and about the internationally recognised findings.

Endometriosis: adhesion molecules as potential biomarkers
Endometriosis is a benign but often chronic condition in women. It is where the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterine cavity (endometrium) occurs in other parts of the body – especially in the area of the ovaries, vagina, bowel, in or on the urinary bladder, and even outside the pelvic or abdominal cavity.

Endometriosis behaves like the mucous membrane inside the uterus: it grows and bleeds under the influence of female hormones and can therefore cause painful symptoms, which can start as early as puberty. Typical symptoms are period pains, pain in the lower abdomen, during intercourse, during defecation and urination. Endometriosis can also lead to infertility. "Consequently the condition has a significant negative impact upon the quality of life of sufferers," says Heinrich Husslein from MedUni Vienna's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Endometriosis Center. It affects around 300,000 women in Austria. It is not yet known what causes the disease.

It is also difficult to diagnose, because, in many cases, the many and varied symptoms do not immediately point to endometriosis. Moreover, a definitive diagnosis can currently only be made using a surgical intervention, usually in the form of a laparoscopy. In most cases many years pass between the onset of the problems and a definitive diagnosis. "There is therefore a huge need for a non-invasive diagnostic method; firstly to spare patients a surgical intervention and the associated risks and secondly to be able to start targeted treatment much sooner," says study author Lorenz Küssel from the MedUni Vienna Endometriosis Center.

Küssel and Husslein therefore investigated whether certain adhesion molecules (binding proteins between the cells), which are known to play a role as a "glue" between the cells, amongst other things, would be suitable as a biomarker for endometriosis. The outcome: women with endometriosis produce a lot more adhesion molecules SVCAM-I (soluble VCAM-I) and SICAM-I (soluble ICAM-I) so that a combination of these would represent a suitable potential biomarker in the blood serum. In a group of 138 women, it was possible to determine with 90% certainty whether they had endometriosis or not. "We now want to conduct follow-up studies to investigate whether this promising starting point can lead to a new, minimally invasive diagnostic option in the future," say the study authors.

Service: Human Reproduction
"Soluble VCAM-I/soluble ICAM-I ratio is a promising biomarker for diagnosis of endometriosis." L. Kuessel, R. Wenzl, K. Proestling, S. Balendran, P. Pateisky, I. Yovota, G. Yerlikaya, B. Streubel and H. Husslein. February 23, 2017, doi:10.1093/humrep/dex208.

Other studies funded under I.N.G.R.I.D.:
"Training on an inexpensive tablet-based device is equally effective as on a standard laparoscopic box trainer." E. Montanari, R. Schwameis, M. Louridas, C. Göbl, L. Kuessel, S. Polterauer, H. Husslein. Medicine, August 2016. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000004826.

"Enhanced expression of the stemness-related factors OCT4, SOX15 and TWIST1 in ectopic endometrium of endometriosis patients." K. Proestling, P. Birner, S. Balendran, N. Nirtl, E. Marton, G. Yerlikaya, L. Kuessel, T. Reischer, R. Wenzl, B. Streubel and H. Husslein. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology (2016). DOI 10.1186/s12958-016-0215-4.

"Enhanced epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) and upregulated MYC in ectopic lesions contribute independently to endometriosis." K. Proestling, P. Birner, S. Gamperl, N. Nirtl, E. Marton, G. Yerlikaya, R. Wenzl, B. Streubel and H. Husslein. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology (2015). DOI 10.1186/s12958-015-0063-7.

"Comprehensive study of angiogenic factors in women with endometriosis compared with women without endometriosis." G. Yerlikaya, S. Balendran, K. Proestling, T. Reischer, P. Birner, R. Wenzl, L. Kuessel, B. Streubel and H. Husslein. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology (2016).

"Global and single gene DNA methylation in umbilical cord blood cells after elective caesarean: a pilot study." M. Franz, M. Poterauer, M. Elhenicky, S. Stary, P. Birner, U. Vinatzer, P. Husslein, B. Streubel, H. Husslein. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology (2016). 

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