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Breaking News: Non-invasive Testing for Endometriosis on the Way

March 2024, Oxford University medics presented encouraging preliminary results of the first non-invasive diagnostic test for endometriosis. The DETECT (Detecting Endometriosis expressed intergrins using technetium-99m) imaging study is currently underway in Oxford, United Kingdom. Led by Professor Christian Becker, Co-Director of the Oxford Endometriosis CaRe Centre, together with Krina Zondervan, Head of Department at the Nuffield Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health, University of Oxford, the trial aims to recruit between 20 and 25 women. The duo hope that they will complete this phase of the DETECT study by the end of 2024.

Encouraging Early Results

Early results from the trial demonstrate that a novel imaging system, similar to a CAT scan, can detect the early stages of peritoneal endometriosis. In one case, the researcher identified lesion missed by ultrasound testing. They later confirmed the presence of endometriosis via surgery. Dr. Tatjana Gibbons announced the results in a presentation at the Society for Reproductive Investigation (SRI) annual meeting March 2024, in Vancouver, Canada.

Track and Trace

The imaging system uses a radio-labelled tag to mark developing blood vessels. The tag successfully pin-pointed clumps of endometrium-like tissue growing outside the uterus. Much like a thyroid scan, a patient will be injected with a radio-labelled tracer. As it circulates around the body, it will stick to any tissue with newly emerging blood vessels. The patient will then hop into a SPECT-CT body scanner. The scanner uses a sensitive camera that can detect the weak radioactive signal given off by the label.

First Look

For the first time, the researchers were able to visualize endometriosis in the peritoneum. This is the lining that covers the inside of the pelvis and abdomen. Usually this is impossible without performing surgery. Currently this most common form of endometriosis can only be diagnosed or even seen using laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery. They also found and mapped endometrial lesions growing on internal organs such as the bladder, bowel and ovaries.

SPECT— CT: A New Hope

On average it takes around seven years for doctors to diagnose a patient with endometriosis. This delay is largely due to the need for surgery under general anaesthetic just to diagnose the condition. If this technology makes it into hospitals, it could be a major step forward for women living with chronic abdominal and pelvic pain. As Professor Becker said in a press release, “Endometriosis is a common disease affecting many millions of women worldwide with pain and infertility. The current delay in diagnosis results in prolonged suffering and uncertainty. Therefore, a novel imaging tool to assist healthcare professionals in identifying or ruling out the disease is urgently needed.”

SRI Abstracts available here.

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Joanna Mulvaney PhD
Joanna Mulvaney PhD
Joanna Mulvaney worked as a bench researcher for much of her career before transitioning to science communication. She completed a PhD in developmental biology focusing on cell signaling in cardiogenesis at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, before moving on to study axial skeleton development and skeletal myogenesis at King’s College London and regeneration of auditory cells in the ear at University of California San Diego Medical School, USA and Sunnybrook Research Institute, Toronto, Canada. When it comes to scientific information, her philosophy is: make it simple, make it clear, make it useful.


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