Endometriosis falls into the abyss of ‘women’s diseases’: Here’s what a pioneering bioengineer is designing to redress that

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Credit: Vice
Credit: Vice

Dr. [Linda] Griffith founded the [Gynepathology Research] lab in 2009 with the goal of helping researchers solve endometriosis, a chronic disorder in which tissue similar to that which normally lines the uterus instead grows outside it. The disease strikes one in 10 women, as well as trans men and nonbinary people who menstruate. Its hallmarks are extreme pain and, in some cases, infertility.

Yet it suffers from a branding problem: It falls into the abyss of “women’s diseases” (overlooked), diseases that don’t kill you (unimportant) and menstrual problems (taboo). 

Researcher Linda Griffith. Credit: Dina Rudick/Boston Globe

With her background in systems engineering, Dr. Griffith sees the uterus not as an island but as an organ that interacts intimately with everything around it. To capture these systemic interactions, her team connects her models to other organs like bone marrow, gut and liver.

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One might well ask why more researchers have not focused on the uterus until recently. Bioengineers in particular have always taken an interest in tissues that regenerate and self-heal. “And yet it took them how many decades to recognize that one of the most regenerative tissues is found inside the uterus?” asked Kathryn Clancy, a biological anthropologist who studies reproduction at the University of Illinois.

The reason, she believes, is simple: “Because none of the researchers had uteruses.”

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