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Rebecca Jones, PhD

Dr

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Personal profile

Overview

I am a Senior Lecturer in Maternal and Fetal Health and am based in the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre, in St Mary's Hospital.

I head a research programme investigating the causes of pregnancy complications, with a particular interest on immunological mechanisms of pregnancy pathologies and maternal influences on fetal and placental growth.

I am the Co-Director of the Masters in Research (MRes) in Maternal and Fetal Health, and currently supervise 1 MRes and 5 PhD students.

I am Postgraduate Research Student Trainer for the Institute of Human Development

I am also involved in undergraduate teaching, both for the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences and for the Faculty of Life Sciences.

Biography

My previous research, both during my PhD in Edinburgh and postdoctoral training in Melbourne, focused on inflammatory processes involved in regulating normal endometrial function, and how these are aberrant in endometrial pathologies, e.g. infertility, abnormal uterine bleeding, endometrial cancer. These studies gave me a strong foundation in basic science and clinically-relevant research in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. In 2002 I was awarded a Fellowship from the Australian and New Zealand Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. This provided me with the opportunity to develop research independence and head my own research group. I employed a research assistant and supervised undergraduate students and co-supervised a PhD student. This fellowship, and additional travel grant awards, enabled annual travel to international meetings, predominantly in the USA, to raise my international research profile.


My current research focuses on maternal and fetal interactions during pregnancy. I was originally employed in 2005 at the University of Manchester as a link lecturer with Professor John Challis at the University of Toronto, with a brief to bring together research projects in Manchester and Toronto on the theme of developmental programming. I have therefore developed a portfolio of research projects to examine how the maternal environment shapes the development and function of the placenta, and thereby affects the health and timely delivery of the infant.
Many pregnancy pathologies have their origins in early pregnancy, and my previous research has contributed to our understanding of the essential preparatory events within uterine decidua for embryo implantation and placentation. One particular focus has been investigating the regulation and functions of immune cells in regulating uterine physiology. Together with collaboration with researchers at the University of Toronto, my group has shown for the first time that maternal immune cells play an integral role in the remodelling of the uterine arteries during early pregnancy, an essential preparatory event for a healthy pregnancy. We have also delineated key roles for maternal macrophages within the decidua in later pregnancy during the labour process both at term and in preterm deliveries. This is coincident with the upregulation of a number of chemoattractants which we believe participate in triggering labour and thus may be harnessed to block premature labour. The presence of these cytokines in maternal plasma may provide a more accurate means of identifying those women in imminent risk of preterm delivery enabling targeting of interventions to those most at need.


Since taking up my post in Manchester, I have also broadened my research focus to include investigations of the impact of maternal nutritional status and stress on placental development and function. These are major influences on fetal growth and developmental programming and our work explores the mechanisms involved in glucocorticoid-mediated growth restriction using animal models and human placental tissue. Much of the research into nutritional status revolves around teenage pregnancy, due to their increased risk of poor pregnancy outcome and their susceptibility for low nutritional status. We have shown that teenagers have inherently low placental function, confirming a biological susceptibility related to young maternal age. This is exacerbated in those teenagers with poor nutritional status and we are exploring epigenetic mechanisms. We are now extending these studies to examine the effect of advanced maternal age, as older mothers are also more likely to suffer pregnancy complications, particularly stillbirth. This provides the opportunity for more clinically-relevant research with clear translational potential.
 

Research interests

My current research focuses on maternal and fetal interactions during pregnancy. I was originally employed at the University of Manchester as a link lecturer with Professor John Challis at the University of Toronto, with a brief to bring together research projects in Manchester and Toronto on the theme of developmental programming. I have therefore developed a portfolio of research projects to examine how the maternal environment shapes the development and function of the placenta, and thereby affects the health and timely delivery of the infant.

Many pregnancy pathologies have their origins in early pregnancy, and my previous research has contributed to our understanding of the essential preparatory events within uterine decidua for embryo implantation and placentation. One particular focus has been investigating the regulation and functions of immune cells in regulating uterine physiology. Together with collaboration with researchers at the University of Toronto, my group has shown for the first time that maternal immune cells play an integral role in the remodelling of the uterine arteries during early pregnancy, an essential preparatory event for a healthy pregnancy. We have also delineated key roles for maternal macrophages within the decidua in later pregnancy during the labour process both at term and in preterm deliveries. This is coincident with the upregulation of a number of chemoattractants which we believe participate in triggering labour and thus may be harnessed to block premature labour. The presence of these cytokines in maternal plasma may provide a more accurate means of identifying those women in imminent risk of preterm delivery enabling targeting of interventions to those most at need.

Since taking up my post in Manchester, I have also broadened my research focus to include investigations of the impact of maternal nutritional status and stress on placental development and function. These are major influences on fetal growth and developmental programming and our work explores the mechanisms involved in glucocorticoid-mediated growth restriction using animal models and human placental tissue. Much of the research into nutritional status revolves around teenage pregnancy, due to their increased risk of poor pregnancy outcome and their susceptibility for low nutritional status. We have shown that teenagers have inherently low placental function, confirming a biological susceptibility related to young maternal age. This is exacerbated in those teenagers with poor nutritional status and we are exploring epigenetic mechanisms. We are now extending these studies to examine the effect of advanced maternal age, as older mothers are also more likely to suffer pregnancy complications, particularly stillbirth. This provides the opportunity for more clinically-relevant research with clear translational potential.

Teaching

Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences

Undergraduate:

Portfolio Tutor for first year medical students

TPPD Tutor

Lecture for First Year Medical Students for Lifecycle module

Supervision of undergraduate (SSC, Project Options) students projects.

Postgraduate:

Programme Co-Director of MRes in Maternal and Fetal Health.

Tutor for MRes Techniques workshops

MRes Tutorial on Statistics

Supervision of MRes and PhD students

PGR Trainer for Institute of Human Development

 

Faculty of Life Sciences

Lectures for BIOL30551 Human Reproductive Biology Unit

Academic Tutor for Final Year Biomedical Science Students

Supervision of Final Year project students

My collaborations

2005- onwards              Prof JRG Challis, Prof S Matthews, University of Toronto                                                

In my capacity as Link Lecturer, I have forged and strengthened collaborations between the Maternal Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester and Professor Challis’s research group at the University of Toronto. Prof Challis has now moved to Vancouver, but retains an Honorary Chair at the University of Toronto. We have been awarded 4 joint research grants (MRC, Action Medical Research, Royal Society, Tommy’s the Baby Charity) and have co-authored 3 journal papers and 9 published abstracts presented at international conferences. Together with Prof Matthews, we currently co-supervise a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto. Prof Challis has also acted as international advisor to 2 PhD students at the University of Manchester. I have co-ordinated several student exchange visits between Manchester and Toronto.

2006-onwards               Dr CE Dunk, Dr W Whittle & Prof S Lye, Samuel Lunenfeld Institute, Toronto.

Active collaborations to investigate the involvement of uterine NK cells in the establishment of pregnancy. We have successfully obtained 12 month priority start-up funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health. My Ph.D. student, Ms S Smith, spent 3-months on an exchange visit to Dr Dunk’s laboratory funded by Boehringer Ingleheim Fonds (€3,000). Two high impact journals have already resulted from this research. A joint 5 year project grant to Canadian Institutes of Health has been submitted to continue this work.

2008-onwards               Dr O Shynlova & Prof S Lye (Samuel Lunenfeld Institute, Toronto).                     

This initiative to investigate the mechanisms of preterm labour is an extension of collaborations with Professor Lye, combining expertise from the Toronto collaborators in the mechanisms of preterm labour with my background in decidual leukocyte recruitment and activation. A project grant from Tommy’s the Baby Charity and the James Tudor Foundation was awarded to support a PhD student in Manchester.

2008-onwards               Prof Tina Lavender (School of Midwifery, University of Manchester)

Collaboration with newly appointed Professor of Midwifery to further studies of teenage pregnancy. Joint funding was awarded (Value in People Wellcome Trust Grant) for a 12 month period to support the TEENS (Teenage Nutrition Study) prospective observational study of folate status in teenager pregnancy.

2010-12             Dr Miguel Constancia (University of Cambridge)

Dr Constancia was a co-applicant on a BRC-funded Experimental Medicine Grant to investigate DNA methylation patterns in human placentas, and the impact of folate deficiency. These are essential studies to translate the findings of altered fetal and placental methylation following nutritional insults in animal models.

Memberships of committees and professional bodies

International Federation of Placental Associations
The Endocrine Society (USA)
The Physiological Society (UK)
 

Methodological knowledge

Immunohistochemical and morphometric analyses, tissue fixation and processing

Protein analyses: ELISA

Molecular Biology: real time PCR, siRNA knockdown

Tissue and cell culture

Qualifications

B.Sc. (Hons.) Biological Sciences , University of Leicester

Ph.D. "Inflammatory Mediators in Human Endometrium", Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Edinburgh
 

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

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Digital Futures

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