Exploring the Link Between Endometriosis and Ovarian Cancer in Mice

Grantee: Michael R. Wilson, PhD 
Institution: Michigan State University in East Lansing
Focus Area: Develop, Differentiation and Cancer
Term: 1/1/2018 to 12/31/2020

The Challenge: Some studies have suggested that having endometriosis may increase a woman’s risk for certain types of ovarian cancer. With endometriosis, some of the cells lining the inside of the uterus don’t shed during menstruation. Instead, those cells can migrate to, and grow in, other reproductive organs, including the ovary. However, there’s been little research that actually shows that cells from the uterus can start cancer in an ovary.

The Research: Michael R. Wilson, PhD, and his team want to learn how cells from the lining of the uterus to get to the ovary, as well as what causes those cells to become cancerous once they get there.

The team has genetically altered mice to have endometriosis and a type of ovarian cancer that is associated with endometriosis. Then, they take cells from the lining of the uterus in those mice and transfer them into healthy mice. They want to answer questions like: Do the cells from the lining of the uterus get “help” from other cells around them to move? Do the cells from the lining of the uterus go to the fallopian tubes first? Does the ovary do something to attract the cells from the lining of the uterus?  

To get answers, they’ll compare cells from the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries of healthy mice with the cells from the mice with endometriosis-related ovarian cancer.    

The Goal and Long-Term Possibilities: Wilson’s team hopes to find biomarkers that will provide signs as to if ovarian cancers can come from the uterus. Ultimately, they want their work to lead to new ways to do surgery in women that could eventually help prevent ovarian cancer related to endometriosis.