Science Of The Womb, The Organ Par Excellence

Menstruation got you down? This will lift your spirits: Today's Guardian features an amazing essay by PhD student Jacqueline Maybin about the "secrets of the womb." Some choice excerpts:

Maybin opens her prize-winning essay with a famous quote from Queen Elizabeth I: "I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king." And it only gets better from there. Maybin discusses the unique power of the female body, focusing primarily on the womb, or the "organ par excellence:"

Without doubt, the average male is physically stronger than the average female. This is due to higher levels of the male hormone testosterone. Nevertheless, I've noticed that strength does not always equate to physical power. The female hormones have ingenious ways of compensating. They give women an understated but enviable form of strength. Ironically, despite her exceptional "heart and stomach", the most remarkable organs Elizabeth possessed were the ones that made her female.

Maybin's work involves studying the inner lining of the womb, aka the endometrium, a "sophisticated, complicated and not fully understood" organ. As we all probably (hopefully) know, our bodies shed the excess junk once a month. During this time, the endometrium looks like a wound; it is red and inflamed, but unlike a skin wound, which scars over, the endometrium has "the extraordinary ability to repair rapidly without scarring." Maybin studies the endometrium, in hopes that she will someday be able to apply the workings of the uterine lining to other wounds, and thus prevent harmful scarring. Maybin explains:

What have we uncovered so far? It is clear that repair is highly co-ordinated and that any deviation from the tightly regulated sequence leads to inefficient healing. Just before a period, white blood cells pour into the endometrial tissue from the blood stream. These cells release enzymes that break down tissue and cause bleeding. As well as initiating the injury, these cells also mop up dead tissue and remove debris.

She continues:

By examining tissue from women having a hysterectomy, I am trying to identify control mechanisms for white cells in the endometrium. If identified, a factor that clears these cells could be harnessed as a treatment for inflammation anywhere in the body...

Studying the extraordinary workings of the endometrium is exciting stuff.

It sure is! Maybin's essay, titled "the best a man can't get" was the winner of the Max Perutz prize, which is awarded to a PhD student who conveys the importance, relevance, and excitement of their work in a popular science article.

Secrets Of The Womb [Guardian]