Research Projects

EPIC: Epigenetic (and genetic) studies of the Placenta in Complications of pregnancy (Preeclampsia, Intrauterine Growth Restriction, preterm birth):

Our lab is interested in understanding the role of genetic and epigenetic changes in the placenta in normal development and in pregnancies complicated by poor fetal growth, maternal preeclampsia (hypertension) and spontaneous preterm birth. We want to use this information to 1) understand the underlying causes of these outcomes 2) identify markers in maternal blood that can help predict which pregnancies will become complicated by these problems before symptoms are present 3) learn what the placenta can tell us about fetal well being and neonatal health.

Study groups:

  • Healthy uncomplicated pregnancies.
  • Pregnancies identified as ‘at risk’ due to an abnormal maternal serum screen
  • Pregnancies at risk of or diagnosed with preeclampsia, IUGR, or preterm birth.

Specific investigations:

Detection and origin of chromosomally abnormal cells, Illumina microarray assessment of DNA methylation with genome wide and gene-specific approaches, expression of placental-specific genes, clinical-genetic correlation.

‘Omics of the Placenta:

Through a grant funded by the NIH Human Placenta Project, we are investigating 1) ‘Omics profiles of placental cell types across gestation and by sex; 2) ‘Omics profiles of placenta in response to maternal stress. This is part of a cross Canada + Australia collaboration to develop improved understanding of some basic biology of the placenta

‘omics tools:

  • DNA methylation (Illumina EPIC array)
  • small RNA sequencing (miRNA and piRNA)
  • ancestry informative marker typing
  • metabolomics
  • serotonin and cytokine signalling

Epigenetic development of the immune system (placenta and cord blood):

In addition to the above studies, we are generally interested in how gene expression and epigenetic marks change by cell type within the placenta and cord blood at progressive developmental stages. Is this influenced by genetic polymorphisms? How does this vary by sex? How does the immune system of preterm newborns compare to term newborns? What alterations are associated with inflammation associated with preterm birth?

Mosaicism and chimerism:

We have long had an interest in errors that arise in the first few cell divisions leading to mosaic or chimeric placentas or fetuses. How do such errors arise? What factors (selection, chance, cell population sizes) influence where the different cell types end up in the body and what their effect will be on phenotype? How frequent are copy number changes in the placenta as compared to somatic tissues? Are these increased when placental pathology is present?

See also our Chromosome mosaicism web site.

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