Pelvic organ prolapse treatment attracts international award

By Hudson Institute communications

Hudson Institute researcher, Dr Shayanti Mukherjee, has won the prestigious international Women in STEM2D Scholar Award for her ground-breaking bioengineering work in helping women with pelvic organ prolapse (POP).

Dr Shayanti Mukherjee wins international award for her ground-breaking work helping women with pelvic organ prolapse.
Dr Shayanti Mukherjee

With over 650 applications submitted from 40 countries, Dr Mukherjee and Hudson Institute of Medical Research are delighted to be acknowledged by such a prestigious accolade.

Fuelling the development of female leaders

The US $150,000 Women in STEM2D Scholar Award is a significant international award issued by Johnson and Johnson to fuel the development of female leaders and feed the STEM2D talent pipeline by sponsoring women at critical points in their careers.

The award recognises one emerging leader in each STEM2D discipline: Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Manufacturing and Design, and provides each recipient with three years of mentorship. Dr Mukherjee received the award in the Engineering category.

“The J&J WiSTEM2D have been bringing diverse minds with bright perspectives to address some of the major healthcare challenges. It feels quite surreal to know that my research ideas and vision was identified as one of those in 2021. I am over the moon!! It reflects Hudson’s nurturing environment for women in STEM and enthusiasm for supporting diverse ideas, which has led to an award in engineering despite being a medical research organisation. I am thrilled to commence this journey with J&J and look forward to their excellent mentorship,” she said.

Dr Mukherjee has been investigating combining stem cells from the lining of a woman’s own uterus with biodegradable materials designed through 3D printing and nanotechnology in a world-first approach to develop safer, more effective treatments for pelvic organ prolapse (POP).

Historically, transvaginal meshes used in pelvic organ prolapse surgeries have been made from thermoplastic polymer polypropylene, a type of plastic also used in plastic containers. The degradable meshes for POP were first designed by Dr Mukherjee in 2018 as a novel alternative and the team observed the Nanomesh worked better when implanted with highly regenerative and reparative stem/stromal cells derived from women’s own uterus.

“We have discovered that material design using nanotechnology, 3D bioprinting and cell therapy significantly impacts how our body’s immune system responds to the pelvic floor reconstruction surgical impants. To overcome current hurdles and have better long-term outcomes, we need to design more ‘smart’ materials that can optimally heal damaged tissues without side-effects.”

Better surgical materials

In November 2017, the Therapeutic Goods Administration announced it would remove vaginal meshes used for treating pelvic organ prolapse from the register for sale in Australia. There is a quest for better surgical materials for maternal health applications that Dr Mukherjee has been pioneering.

“At present, millions of women worldwide suffer from POP with very limited treatment options,” said Dr Mukherjee.

“POP is associated with sexual, bladder, and bowel dysfunction, including incontinence that profoundly affect the quality of life and daily functioning of sufferers; in Australia, more than $200 million was spent on urinary incontinence in 2009.”

Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) facts

  • Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is a debilitating condition, primarily caused in childbirth, that affects one in four women globally, and one in two over 50.
  • POP is a hidden condition and develops when tissues, pelvic floor muscles and ligaments that support the pelvic organs (the bladder, uterus and bowel) become damaged, usually in childbirth, causing organs to shift or ‘drop’ into or outside the vagina.
  • POP is essentially a hernia through which pelvic organs protrude because the supporting tissue is weak. This can lead to debilitating symptoms, including poor bladder or bowel control and pain during sex.
  • While the injury happens mostly during childbirth, the patient may not know about the damage until many years later, often during menopause. There is no reliable cure for pelvic organ prolapse.
  • Hudson Institute researchers are striving to discover an effective, safe treatment option for the many women who are suffering in silence.
  • The condition can be exacerbated by age, ethnicity, multiple births, obesity and family genetics. One in five women require surgery – and often multiple surgeries.
  • Hudson Institute researchers have been focussing on the challenges of Pelvic Organ Prolapse for over 10 years, working toward solutions to this complex and debilitating condition using a woman’s own cells and new biomaterials.

The Pelvic Organ Prolapse research team includes Dr Shayanti Mukherjee, Professor Caroline Gargett, Professor Jerome Werkmeister, A/Professor Anna Rosamilia (Monash University and Monash Health), Dr Saeedeh Darzi, Dr David Hennes and Kallyanashis Paul.

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