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New Research into Endometriosis

27 October 2022

UC biomedical engineering student Katherine Ellis and supervisor Dr Rachel Wood share insights into endometriosis research


University of Canterbury Biomedical Engineering researchers (from left to right) Lecturer Dr Rachael Wood, student Katherine Ellis and Senior Lecturer Dr Deborah Munro are working to bring an engineering approach to diagnosing and treating endometriosis.

Biomedical Engineering student Katherine Ellis has recently completed the first stage of a successful study on endometriosis, aiming to introduce a new approach to the diagnosis of endometriosis, a debilitating condition affecting over 100,000 women in Aotearoa.   

Ellis and her supervisors, Dr Deborah Munro and Dr Rachael Wood surveyed 50 patients, aged 18-48, who suffer from the condition, asking them qualitative and quantitative questions. Online forums were then opened for patients to share stories about their experiences anonymously.  

Ellis says they wanted the survey to be centred around patients and their needs, with questions asking about patients' experiences with GPs and what they think is necessary for treatment. She says they are hoping to develop new ways to diagnose endometriosis or a way of diagnosing it earlier. Currently, the only way to diagnose the disease is by invasive surgery, which is often expensive and inaccessible for patients. 

Ellis' primary motivation for delving into this research was being surrounded by girls at her school who had suffered from endometriosis. She also became aware of some research being conducted around the disease, with the majority focusing on how the disease affects male partners of patients. "That doesn't help anybody, that doesn't get us closer to new treatments, new diagnostic tools, a greater understanding of what patients are going through." The patients themselves and their experiences have been at the forefront of this study.    

Since the study's release, the research has attracted media attention around the country, with an article posted on Stuff, found here, as well as radio interviews. Ellis says the recognition is much needed. "We've easily got about 120,000 patients in New Zealand. They need to be heard. So, I think it's really good that people are caring about it more." Ellis' supervisor Dr Rachael Wood says the attention has been "surreal." "It's also so cool, because it's starting the conversation that we want people to be having."   

Now that the first study is complete, Ellis says her team is working on conducting the survey again, but this time with Māori and Pacifica patients. "We did not collect ethnicity data for the first one, we don't know how representative that data is." Ellis is also set to study for her PhD next year, focusing on the mechanical aspects of endometriosis, examining the microenvironment that allows endometriosis to thrive, and researching ways in which it can interfere with the disease.


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