DotLab's test searches for a combination of novel microRNA biomarkers found in the blood or saliva that are linked to endometriosis. (DotLab)

Making the diagnosis of endometriosis as easy as a blood test

CEO: Heather Bowerman
Founded: 2016
Based: San Francisco and New Haven, Connecticut

The scoop: Endometriosis is the rare disease that isn’t. 

It’s estimated to affect about one in 10 women of reproductive age, or upward of 175 million people worldwide, and is one of the top causes of female infertility. Still, receiving an accurate diagnosis can take several years and as many different doctors from the time the pain begins.

Known as an “invisible disease,” the condition is caused when cells similar to those that line the inside of the uterus begin to grow anywhere but, such as on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder or nearby ligaments. This can lead to recurrent pelvic pain, including during menstruation, and other complications—often misdiagnosed as routine cramps.  

Typically, the diagnosis and treatment of lesions are performed in a 2-in-1 laparoscopic surgical procedure through small incisions in the body. But other methods of therapy exist, including contraceptive pills and prescription hormone medications that regulate menstruation and can lessen painful episodes.

DotLab’s goal is to shorten the time to diagnosis and get women onto treatment sooner. The company came out of stealth last year with an early venture capital round to help fuel the development of its noninvasive test for endometriosis, using technology licensed from Yale School of Medicine.

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The test searches for a combination of novel microRNA biomarkers found in the blood or saliva that are linked to the disease through a machine learning algorithm being trained on clinical samples to help optimize its overall sensitivity and specificity, according to CEO Heather Bowerman.

“Women really have to advocate for themselves and navigate through the health system for a long time—and rule out literally everything else that could be the cause of pelvic pain or infertility or both—before finally getting to the answer of endometriosis,” Bowerman says. “And while there are genetic tests that offer risk profiles for the disease, that's very different from confirming the presence of active disease.”

What makes DotLab fierce: “I think that, while women’s health is being deprioritized by a lot of pharma companies, at the same time we are seeing the first activity in the space in a long time, as far as successful therapies entering the market,” Bowerman says.

The company raised $10 million in a series A round last July, led by CooperSurgical, a medical device unit of The Cooper Companies that focuses on women’s health, fertility and genomics. 

And when it comes to the biggest obstacles in cutting down that yearslong average time to diagnosis, Bowerman says it’s a combination of technical engineering as well as educating physicians and the general public.

“It's hard to say which single factor is the most significant because of how poorly characterized endometriosis is today—and because the standard of care is laparoscopic invasive surgery—but that is the ground truth that we compare our test results against,” she says.

“I think that being able to provide answers to families, and then help women all the way from adolescent years up until menopause, that there's such an enormous window and opportunity for impact,” Bowerman adds. “It's just a really shocking gap, technologically speaking.”

Investors: CooperSurgical, plus Tiger Global Management, Luxor Capital Group and law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.