Melbourne stem cell science use nanobiomaterials to combat silent epidemic

12 April 2018
Professor Caroline Gargett and team are investigating stem cells to treat pelvic organ prolapse
Stem cells—combined with a biomaterial growing environment they need—may offer an alternative treatment for the one-in-four women affected by pelvic organ prolapse.
Pelvic organ prolapse is a lifelong and potentially debilitating ‘silent epidemic’, mainly caused by the tissue damage experienced by mothers during childbirth and worsened by ageing. It was previously treated using transvaginal mesh implants, which were banned last year because of the risks to patients.

Professor Caroline Gargett and her colleagues at Hudson Institute of Medical Research hope that stem cells from a woman’s own uterus combined with nanobiomaterials (biodegradable materials engineered on the nanoscale) will provide a safer, more effective treatment for pelvic organ prolapse as well as a non-surgical therapy soon after childbirth to prevent future prolapse.

Caroline is a member of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University as a Senior Research Fellow. Her research focuses on characterising epithelial progenitor cells and mesenchymal stem cells, and examining their role in endometriosis and endometrial cancer. In 2017, Caroline and her team identified a marker, a protein called N-cadherin, that is expressed by a type of adult stem cell known as endometrial epithelial progenitor cells (eEPs) and can be used to locate and identify them in the lining of the uterus. This discovery significantly aids the investigation of the role of these endometrial stem progenitor cells in women’s reproductive health conditions, including endometriosis.

The new approach is currently being trialled in animals. The research team hopes to start clinical trials in three to five years

Professor Gargett is a Board Member of the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia. She was President of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research (2013-2014) where she led the successful bid to host the International Society for Stem Cell Research Annual meeting in Melbourne in 2018.