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Centre for Trophoblast Research


In the quest to study the womb and its role in reproductive health, researchers in the Turco lab and their collaborators have generated a cellular map of the human uterus and of endometrial organoids — lab-grown models of the womb’s lining. The atlas, which is the most detailed of its kind, will help scientists to develop better models of the womb. The work could provide new insights into the healthy uterine tissue as well as into infertility, uterine cancer and other conditions.

Every month throughout her reproductive life, except during pregnancy, a woman sheds her entire endometrium — the womb’s inner lining — and regrows it. Due to the regenerative capacities of the human endometrium, studying the uterus has proved challenging, since endometrial tissues change periodically in response to female hormones.

Now, Konstantina Nikolakopoulou, a PhD student in the lab of Margherita Yayoi Turco, and her collaborators have generated the most detailed map of the human uterus to date. The atlas reflects the changing structure of the endometrium during the menstrual cycle and will help scientists to explore the types of cells that make the human uterus, and how they contribute to the organ’s function.

The researchers also profiled lab-grown miniature models of the endometrium called endometrial organoids and found that they accurately mimic many of the features of the womb’s lining. The findings were published today in Nature Genetics.

"We know very little about how the normal endometrium is regulated and what it looks like,” Turco says. The new study, she adds, indicates that endometrial organoids are a powerful tool to understand how the healthy uterus works and what goes awry in conditions such as infertility and endometriosis, a chronic disorder in which the endometrium grows outside of the uterus. Infertility affects millions of women of reproductive age worldwide, and one in 10 women suffer of endometriosis. Both conditions are often extremely distressing.

The study was done in collaboration with Roser Vento-Tormo, Omer Bayraktar, Sarah Teichmann and their teams at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK.


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