Healing without scars and more effective therapy for women with period problems-those are possibilities raised by the research of Tu’uhevaha Kaitu’u-Lino (Tu’hu for short pron Tu hay) at Prince Henry’s Institute and Monash University.
She has identified the key cells in the immune system important for restoration of the lining of the uterus after menstruation.
“Up to one in 10 Australian women suffer from problems with their monthly period,” Kaitu’u says.
“Heavy, prolonged or unusually frequent vaginal bleeding affects women’s quality of life and is a leading reason they seek medical advice.”
“In addition, understanding the unique ability of the uterus to heal without scarring could be applied to helping burns victims and improving cosmetic procedures,” says Kaitu’u.
Treating menstrual bleeding problems requires a better knowledge of normal menstruation, when the endometrium or uterus lining disintegrates each month and then heals.
“Inadequate endometrial healing could result in the abnormal bleeding some women experience,” Kaitu’u says.
But there’s a real difficulty with studying the process at this level. Of all animals, only women and a few species of monkey menstruate. Neither group can easily be used for experimental work. So, for their studies, the researchers found a way to induce menstruation in mice.
“The mouse model allows us to closely examine the mechanisms of menstruation; impossible in humans,” says Lois Salamonsen, director of the Uterine Biology Group at Prince Henry’s.
Using the menstruating mice, Kaitu’u discovered that a major group of immune system cells better known for fighting infection is involved in endometrial healing-the white blood cells known as neutrophils. They begin to appear within the endometrium as soon as menstruation starts.
Kaitu’u eliminated neutrophils from the mice using a chemical which tells the body to destroy them. This treatment delayed repair of the uterine lining in more than half her animals.
Discovering the importance of neutrophils in uterine healing provides new insights into the body’s repair mechanisms. The work was considered so important, it was published earlier this year in the renowned medical research journal Cell and Tissue Research.
Tu’uhevaha Kaitu’u-Lino is one of 16 early-career scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program sponsored by the Federal and Victorian Governments.