Team eyes infrared route to diagnose endometriosis

Infrared (IR) spectroscopy could greatly improve the diagnosis of endometriosis, bypassing the need for invasive surgical biopsy, according to a team from from Lancaster University

The team found that tissue from women with the condition carried a distinct IR signature — thus paving the way for routine assessment such as that done for cervical smears.

‘We use spectroscopy as a method of deriving what we call a biochemical cell fingerprint of a tissue sample — and from that we can get an absorption spectrum associated with the functionality of the tissue we’ve looked at,’ project lead Dr Francis Martin of Lancaster told The Engineer.

Around 10 per cent of all young women experience endometriosis, which is the growth of endometrial tissue outside the uterus. It can be associated with severe abdominal pain, infertility and even cancer.

Diagnosis of endometriosis is difficult, however, with no effective screening test currently available. For women who are thought to have the condition, invasive laparoscopic surgery — which requires keyhole surgery through the abdomen — remains the only standard accurate diagnostic investigation. This carries the risk of complications and side-effects, as with any surgical procedure.

IR is of increasing interest to medical diagnosis, but for it to have any use in endometriosis the key was to characterise the tissue types first, explained Martin.

They took two sets of tissue samples from women with endometriosis — one from within the uterus (eutopic) and another from where the endometrial tissues had actually grown outside the uterus (ectopic). They also took endometrial (eutopic) tissue samples from healthy women.

As expected, ectopic tissue in women with endometriosis had a different signature to tissue samples from healthy women. Most importantly though, eutopic tissue from women with endometriosis also differed from the samples from healthy women.

’That’s really promising because the uterine tissue is readily accessible to a probe and it potentially negates the need for surgical interventions,’ said Martin, adding: ’It’s one of the most clear-cut results we’ve ever had in using infrared spectroscopy for diagnostic screening.’

Martin envisages a small device, no larger than a pen, that could check for endometriosis during routine examination, such as that done currently for cervical smear tests.