Reproductive Tract Immunology and Endometriosis Research

Photograph of Dr Danica Hickey immunologist and endometriosis researcher

Dr Danica Hickey is a reproductive tract immunologist seeking to understand the genetic and immunological drivers of endometriosis and infertility. Dr Hickey specialises in hormone regulated immunity in the female reproductive tract regulating inflammation.

Her work examines:

  1. The multifactorial drivers of endometriosis and infertility with a focus on the relationship between genes, hormone regulation and the body’s immune response
  2. Hormone regulation of immune responses driving inflammation and chronic disease

The role of genes and the immune system in endometriosis and infertility

Around 10% of Australian women are affected by endometriosis – an often-painful condition where uterine tissue lodges and grows outside the uterus.

In women with endometriosis, a high prevalence of women (up to 50%) suffer sub-fertility compared to women without endometriosis (5-10%). Dr Hickey is seeking to understand endometriosis-driven pathways to determine if the immune response contributes to sub-fertility. She aims to discover whether reproductive hormones and the immune system affect endometriosis disease progression.

Dr Hickey’s goal is to identify if there is a particular combination of genes and immune markers that indicate a woman will have endometriosis-related infertility. To achieve this, she is examining genetic data and hormone-regulated immunological pathways.  This information will allow for early diagnosis (perhaps even in teenagers) so women to make informed decisions about seeking fertility assistance early.

Dr Hickey has a STEM grant from QUT to study T cell phenotypes of women with endometriosis during inflammation and infection with Chlamydia trachomatis. Dr Hickey is also collaborating with Queensland Fertility Group (QFG) and EndoNet Qld to determine the prevalence of endometriosis-caused infertility in Queensland women.

Hormone regulation of mucosal immune responses

Steroid hormones in the male and female genital tracts regulate immunity. The hormones activate the immune system to protect the body from sexually transmitted pathogens like Chlamydia trachomatis. However, this immune response may impede reproduction. Dr Hickey aims to understand the hormonal drivers of immune responses that may contribute to chronic inflammation and infertility. By targeting specific hormone receptors with pharmacological agents, therapies that alter immune signaling may alter disease outcomes.