Endometriosis is a disease caused by the adherence and growth of endometrial-like tissue outside the uterine cavity. This gynaecological disorder is associated with chronic pain and infertility which affects 1 in 10 reproductive-age women globally. To date, there is no optimal medical treatment for endometriosis. Current therapies are hormonal, which alleviate symptoms, reduce lesion size and minimise discomfort. However, these are not curative, disrupt fertility and are not suitable for long-term treatment. Normally, the final solution is the surgical removal of the affected tissue but, even after surgery, an elevated recurrence rate is observed. These limitations present a challenge and an opportunity to explore innovative therapies for endometriosis, which should be curative, non-contraceptive, selective to the endometrial-like tissue and able to suppress the growth of existing lesions and prevent the formation of new ones.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) involves the light activation of a photosensitizer drug yielding the production of reactive oxygen species and leading to cell death. PDT is a highly selective, localised and minimally invasive therapy with limited side effects. The selectivity of PDT towards the endometriotic cells could lead to the eradication of cells proving a curative and recurrence-free approach particularly valuable for patients with surgical risk and recurrent disease. This phototherapy also shows negligible toxicity to normal tissues resulting in a fertility-sparing treatment.
The project aims to engineer a novel phototherapeutic strategy for this chronic and painful condition. The idea is to design a PDT-based biomedical nanodevice for the curative and selective treatment of endometriosis. Our group will search for an optimal photosensitizer with near-infrared excitation for better tissue penetration, a targeting moiety for selective therapeutic effect and nanoparticles as carriers of both, photosensitizers and targeting agents.