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Lecturer in Maternal & Fetal Health

Lead for Social Responsibility - Division of Developmental Biology and Medicine

Biography

Following my undergraduate degree in Microbiology and Immunology at The University of Leeds (1998-2001), I took a Research Assistant position at The Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre (MFHRC), University of Manchester, investigating infection in the placenta. I moved on to a Wellcome Trust Prize PhD Studentship within the MFHRC which began my path of research into placental development and function and how these are regulated. My PhD was awarded in 2006 and I have since remained committed to continuing with my research into this important aspect of human biology. I have also been involved in more translational research projects, working towards developing treatments for improving pregnancy outcome in cases of severe fetal growth restriction and pre-eclampsia. I am now further developing my own ideas relating to the importance of taurine in the placenta and understanding how this amino acid influences placental mitochondrial function.

Research interests

My past research within the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre has mainly focussed on placental function with a particular emphasis on nutrient transfer. This research highlighted alterations to placental transport of the amino acid taurine in the pregnancy complications of fetal growth restriction (FGR) and pre-eclampsia (PE). Furthermore, placental taurine transport is reduced in maternal obesity which is a risk factor for development of FGR and PE during pregnancy.

Taurine is an unusual amino acid in that it is not metabolized nor incorporated into cellular proteins, suggesting that it could be important for cellular cytosolic function. Taurine is an osmolyte and in many cell types regulation of cellular hydration state is essential for proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, and hormone secretion. Each of these processes are vital for normal placental development and function and therefore successful pregnancy outcome. Taurine is also an antioxidant and protects against inappropriate apoptosis, ischaemia/reperfusion, oxidative stress and cytokines. The mechanism by which taurine exerts its cytoprotective effect and how this amino acid modulates oxidative stress has been enigmatic. However, in non-placental cells there is evidence that taurine promotes mitochondrial function and I am interested to determine whether this is also true in the placenta.

Abnormalities in placental mitochondria are evident in FGR and PE, and in women at increased risk of these pregnancy complications. My current programme of research focusses on elucidating if mitochondrial dysfunction contributes to placental insufficiency in FGR and explore the possibility that targeting mitochondrial dysfunction therapeutically will improve placental function and fetal growth.

Teaching

Supervision of postgraduate students (PhD and MRes).

A member of the Committee for the MRes in Reproduction and Pregnancy, a course ran by our research group. Duties include running tutorials and skills workshops, teaching and supervision of students, examining student project reports and presentations, and interacting with our External Examiner.

Also involved in final year undergraduate student project design and supervision.

My collaborations

Affiliated Staff: Dr Mark Dilworth, Dr Elizabeth Cottrell, Dr Lucy Higgins, Dr Susan L Greenwood, Prof. Alexander Heazell, Prof. Colin P. Sibley.

Collaborators: Dr Gina Galli

Memberships of committees and professional bodies

Member of The Physiological Society

Member of IFPA (International Federation of Placenta Associations)

Member of The Mitochondrial Physiology Society

Methodological knowledge

Techniques used in the laboratory include:

  • isolation of primary human cells & tissue, mammalian cell culture
  • placental villous explant culture (human tissue)
  • placental microvillous membrane preparation, placental perfusion
  • amino acid transporter assays
  • high resolution respirometry
  • differentiation and apoptosis assays
  • ELISAs
  • protein detection (Western blotting) and measurement
  • immunohistochemistry
  • confocal microscopy
  • general molecular biology
  • conventional and quantitative RT-PCR
  • RNA interference technologies
  • competent use of recombinant adenoviruses

Qualifications

BSc (Hons) Microbiology with Immunology from Leeds University.

PhD in Placental Physiology from Manchester University. Thesis title 'Gestational regulation of human placental amino acid transporters and the interaction of insulin-like growth factor II'.

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

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