Signalling molecule regulates women’s fertility and cancer of the uterus

News Story

A signalling molecule important for fertility in women could also be involved in cancer of the uterus, a Melbourne researcher has found.

Associate Professor Eva Dimitriadis, from Prince Henry’s Institute, says her research shows the molecule, interleukin 11 (IL11), is one of the factors important for the successful attachment or implantation of the embryo in the uterus.

She says the focus of infertility research is often on the quality of the embryo but the attachment of the embryo to the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) is also important.

Dimitriadis says she decided to look at endometrial cancer because IL11 belongs to a family of molecules that are involved in cancer cell invasion.

She says endometrial cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system, yet there are no suitable screening tests and treatment options are limited.

She also says the biology of embryo attachment is very similar to the invasion of cancer cells although implantation is highly regulated whereas cancer invasion is not.

“Our recent studies have shown that a lot of IL11 is produced in women with endometrial cancer,” she says.

“These are very new studies and it’s quite exciting because the action of IL11 could potentially be blocked and that might reduce the spread of cancer in some women.”

Dimitriadis looked at other molecules involved in IL11’s action on endometrial cancer cells and found these were also produced in high quantities.

She says a lack of IL11 can cause infertility in some women whereas too much IL11 was found in endometrial cancer.

Her most recent work on endometrial cancer cells was published in the August issue of the peer-reviewed publication, the International Journal of Oncology.

Dimitriadis says the work might be applied to other types of cancer but it is in the very early stages.

“The work we’ve done in endometrial cancer cells shows associations but it’s certainly not conclusive,” she says.

“We need to do preclinical trials to see if blocking IL11 will do anything to tumour progression.”

Declaration: the author is a former colleague of Associate Professor Dimitriadis.

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