Understanding normal and abnormal placental development and function

The placenta is the baby’s lifeline before birth. It must work optimally for the baby to grow properly and for the mother to remain healthy.

One in 10 women experience pregnancy complications such as fetal growth restriction, pre-eclampsia and diabetes, which impair the growth and development of the baby, at worst leading to stillbirth.

In all these complications, the baby fails to thrive because of abnormal development and function of the placenta. However, we still do not fully understand the origins of placental abnormalities. This lack of understanding impedes the development of treatments that will effectively restore placental function.

We study hundreds of placentas in the laboratory every year to improve our understanding of how the placenta works in health and in disease.

We focus on:

  • describing placental structure using a wide range of state-of-the-art imaging techniques such as 3D microscopy and MRI;
  • investigating how blood vessels that deliver blood to and from the placenta can influence blood flow;
  • understanding the regulation of important functions of the placenta, such as nutrient transport, production of energy and release of hormones needed for development of the placenta and baby;
  • investigating the impact of environmental exposures associated with adverse pregnancy outcome on placental function and fetal health;
  • developing mathematical models of placental structure, blood flow, and nutrient/oxygen transfer to predict abnormal placental development function in disease and identify targets for therapy.