Researcher eyes women's health issues

May 1, 2010
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Collaboration drew medical science researcher Asgi Fazleabas to bring his work — studying the basic science of endometriosis — to Grand Rapids.

“I think it was really the excitement of having this nice collaboration between three institutions, with MSU moving its medical school here, the alliance with Spectrum Health and the Van Andel Institute and a hospital that is a major player,” said Fazleabas.

Since last fall, Fazleabas has been working on transitioning his work from the University of Illinois, where he was director of one of 15 Specialized Cooperative Centers Programs in Reproduction and Infertility. The center is funded with a $6.8 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the Nationals Institutes of Health.

He said the transition is now complete and his laboratory is operating in Michigan State University College of Human Medicine’s space in the Van Andel Institute.

Fazleabas joins Dr. Richard Leach, a professor in the MSU-CHM and chair of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology, who is principal investigator on a SCCPIR project. Falzeabas also will continue to work with colleagues at Northwestern University in Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In addition, Fazleabas said, he is able to work with scientists investigating other aspects of reproductive health and infertility at the other 14 SCCPIR locations.

In endometriosis, the lining of a woman’s uterus grows on fallopian tubes, ovaries or other tissues and can cause cysts, scar tissue, adhesions and pain as well as infertility, according to the Mayo Clinic. Fazleabas said endometriosis underlies 30 to 50 percent of female infertility cases.

“We need to find out what might be the causes for that,” Fazleabas said. “Even though we have known of the disease for over 125 years, we are still debating what really is the cause of the disease.”

Doctors think the uterine lining escapes through the fallopian tubes during menstruation, he added. “But that happens in the majority of women — 90 percent of women will have that — but only 10 percent of the women get the disease. So why is that?” he asked.

His research is also aimed at finding a non-surgical diagnostic tool to detect endometriosis.

“The disease actually goes undiagnosed in North America and western Europe for between eight and 11 years,” Fazleabas said. “The only confirmed diagnosis of it is laparoscopic surgery, which is one, expensive, and, two, needs general anesthesia. So one of the big problems is to come up with a diagnostic that is non-surgical.”

Part of his research is devoted to finding potential markers in, for example, a cervical swab, that are common to women with endometriosis, he said.

Much work remains in the basic science of the disease, Fazleabas said, with clinical trials in the distant future.

He said he also hopes to tap into the cancer research being done at the VAI, since both diseases have a similar pattern of cell overgrowth.

“Spectrum Health looks forward to the expertise and depth of knowledge that Dr. Fazleabas brings to the women’s health area,” Matt Van Vranken, Spectrum Health executive vice president and president of Spectrum Health Hospital Group, said in a press release. “A researcher and professor of his caliber is an asset to MSU College of Human Medicine as well as to Spectrum Health and the patients we serve.”

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