Southampton doctors trial new gel-beads to treat fibroids

Nigel HackingDoctors in Southampton are trialling the use of new dissolvable gel-beads to treat fibroids in a world-first study.

Fibroids, which affect around one in three women between the ages of 30 and 50, are non-cancerous growths that develop in or on a woman's uterus and cause severe abdominal pain and heavy periods. In some cases they can affect pregnancy or cause infertility.

Known as Gel-Bead Embolisation Spheres, they are used as part of uterine fibroid embolisation (UFE), a technique which involves using a tiny catheter inserted in the groin to inject them into the arteries where they cut the blood supply and shrink the fibroids.

Although UFE is now a commonly-used non-surgical alternative to hysterectomy, the plastic microbeads currently injected are permanent and remain in the vessels – whereas the non-plastic gel-beads are absorbed within a few weeks.

This enables the blood supply to the uterus to function fully and could help to preserve uterine and ovarian function and fertility following treatment.

The 12-month study, led by Dr Nigel Hacking, a consultant interventional radiologist, will involve 20 to 25 patients at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

“We are very pleased to be leading the first study in the world looking at this exciting and non-plastic temporary agent to treat fibroids without the need for surgery and which avoids leaving permanent foreign materials in the blood vessels,” explained Dr Hacking.

“While our primary aim is to confirm the gel-beads are a safe and effective alternative to the traditional plastic microbeads used with UFE, we also hope to establish if the treatment holds any benefits over current and permanent agents in terms of preserving ovarian function.”

Dr Hacking said the study also offered the opportunity to raise awareness of UFE as an alternative to surgery for women and help them to “stop suffering in silence”.

“We are currently over halfway through our recruitment and patients have been delighted with the outcomes they are seeing,” he added.

“They are also very keen to highlight UFE to other women in the same situation who are afraid to come forward as they know their gynaecologist will likely recommend hysterectomy or some other form of conventional surgery rather than UFE.

“Any opportunity we have to promote the benefits of non-surgical alternatives for women who may be suffering in silence with fibroids is very welcome.”

Posted on Sunday 18 March 2018