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Melissa Westwood, BSc, PhD (Manchester)

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Personal profile

Biography

Melissa is Professor of Endocrinology (2015) and Associate Vice-President for Research (2018). She is also Academic Director of the University’s MRC-funded Doctoral Training Partnership. Previously, she was Associate Dean for Postgraduate Research in the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health (2015-18) and Lead of the Centre for Women's Health in the Faculty's Institute of Human Development (2011-2015).

Melissa graduated from the University of Manchester with a first class honours degree in Anatomical Sciences in 1991 and began her PhD studies, also at the University of Manchester, on the role of the insulin-like growth factor (IGF) axis in diabetes. However, an unexpected finding led her into pregnancy research and she was awarded a prestigious Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship (1997) to pursue her PhD findings, which resulted in a number of key studies relating to IGF function in normal and compromised pregnancies. Finding solutions to pregnancy problems’ became the focus of her research;  her current interests, funded through Research Council and UK charities, include the influence of maternal hormonal and nutritional signals on implantation and placental development/function, aiming to develop new strategies for clinical intervention. 

Melissa is an elected member of the Council of the Society for Endocrinology and a member of the International Federation of the Placenta Association's Executive Committee. She serves on the Editorial Board for Placenta and the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.

Research interests

The Manchester Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre, part of the Centre for Women's Health, aims to perform basic scientific and clinical studies of normal and complicated pregnancies in order to improve pregnancy outcome though the translation of research findings into clinical practice.


Adequate placental development and function are essential for a healthy and successful pregnancy as the placenta provides a physical interface that permits the efficient exchange of nutrients and waste products between the mother and the developing baby. Consequently our Centre's portfolio of projects on the development and function of the placenta span from the point of pregnancy inception through to late gestation with an emphasis on establishing and refining laboratory models that replicate normal placental behaviour.
 

Pre-eclampsia, fetal growth restriction (FGR) and maternal diabetes, which leads to fetal overgrowth, are the most commonly encountered pregnancy complications. All three conditions are associated with significant neonatal mortality and morbidity and currently, there are no effective interventions. Furthermore, abnormal fetal growth is also linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in later life, suggesting that individuals can be ‘programmed’ during fetal life, resulting in life-threatening disease in adulthood. The exact cause of both pre-eclampsia and FGR is unknown, although abnormal development and / or function of the placenta have been implicated in both conditions. Abnormal placental growth and function also contribute to the fetal overgrowth that occurs in pregnancies complicated by maternal diabetes
 

My research group studies the initial embryo-maternal dialogue at implantation and how the placenta normally develops and functions. In particular, we are trying to understand how these events are regulated at the molecular (e.g. by miRNAs), and cellular (e.g. growth factors and nutrients) level in order to identify novel strategies for clinical intervention. We are currently testing potential therapies, identified through our previous research, in models of pregnancy disease.
 

Teaching

Postgraduate Research

I have successfully supervised 14 PhD and MPhil students and am currently supervising 2 further students.

I, and other members of the Research Centre, would be pleased to hear from students wishing to study for a higher research degree in the area of pregnancy. For further information on studentships currently available within our Centre, please see Posgraduate Opportunities.

Undergraduate Teaching

Through lecture events, tutorials, PBL and project / dissertation supervision, I contribute to many aspects of the BSc and MBChB programmes within the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health.

  • Lecturer on
    • BSc 3rd year Unit - Human Reproductive Biology
    • BSc 3rd year Unit - Advanced Endocrinology
    • BSc 2nd year Unit - Endocrinology 
  • MBChB PBL tutor for Phase 1 module - Life Cycle
  • Offer placement year projects for BSc students
  • Offer laboratory-based projects for 3rd year BSc students
  • Offer literature projects (PEP) for MBChB students
  • Offer laboratory-based projects for MBChB students
  • Offer projects for MRes students

Memberships of committees and professional bodies

Society for Endocrinology

American Endocrine Society

European Placenta Group

International Federation of the Placenta Associaltions

Fellow Society of Biology

 

Methodological knowledge

  • Basic Sciences Methods

Qualifications

1991  BSc (Hons) Anatomical Sciences  (1st class),  University of Manchester 

1995  PhD  Medicine, University of Manchester     

2006  PGCE  Teaching & Learning  in Higher Education, University of Manchester     

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

External positions

External Examiner, Reproductive and Developmental Sciences BSc, Imperial College London

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Digital Futures
  • Lydia Becker Institute
  • Creative Manchester

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