A newly opened center at UC San Diego School of Medicine brings together physicians, researchers and patients in a one-of-a-kind effort to study pregnancy, including its complications and long-term effects, with the goal of improve the health of mothers and their children through collaborative science.
The Center for Perinatal Discovery, based at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, will carry out basic research projects to help understand the interactions between maternal health, environmental exposures, fertility, pregnancy and the health of children before and after birth. . The center, with professors representing nine different departments, is considered the only one of its kind in the region.
Specific research topics include detecting biomarkers for adverse pregnancy outcomes, understanding the evolution of the maternal immune response during pregnancy, and studying the causes of miscarriage, such as miscarriages and pregnancy loss. stillbirths.
The center was launched in September and is co-led by Dr. Louise Laurent, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, and Dr. Mana Parast, professor of pathology. The two have worked together for over a decade as clinicians and scientists, but wanted to bring together researchers from various fields to expand the study of how complications in pregnancy can lead to developmental abnormalities later in life. life.
“We recognized early in our careers that health outcomes are complicated,” Laurent said. “There are a lot of different factors that determine the health of a particular person at some point in their life. We believe that some of these effects occur before birth. Part of our goal is to collect a rich set of data so that we can ask these complex questions and look for associations between different risk factors. “
The center plans to recruit a large group of women, some without predetermined risk factors and others considered high risk, and study them throughout their pregnancy through the lens of different fields.
“These are complex questions that require teams to answer,” said Laurent.
For example, a common interest between Laurent and Parast is preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to an organ system, most commonly the liver and kidneys. It is considered quite common because it occurs in 5 to 8% of otherwise normal pregnancies.
“Some people get a mild form of the disease later in their pregnancy; others contract a severe form earlier in pregnancy, which means premature delivery, ”Laurent said. “It is one of the most important complications, because premature delivery is a risk factor for complications after childbirth. This can manifest itself in different ways, but several organs can be affected and the growth of the baby can be affected. It’s a complex thing in itself, and the risk factors are complicated as well. … We don’t have great ways to predict it. … So there is a lot of work to be done to find better ways to predict.
Another topic the center would explore, Parast said, is how complications during pregnancy can lead to long-term neurological changes.
“It now appears that certain probable events during the course of intrauterine life can predispose a person to neurodevelopmental changes, but we don’t really understand this very well,” she said. “So having a well-characterized pregnancy cohort with a five-year follow-up will hopefully answer some of these questions.… We see this as a chance to build something that neither of us could build on our own.
Parast said she plans to attract more funding by attracting more partners “and to really start something big locally that will improve the health of the community right here in San Diego.”
Laurent said she hopes the center’s launch will help draw attention to the importance of studying pregnancy. “Part of the reason I got into OB is because I was amazed that even though pregnancy is something we all go through [as fetuses] … Pregnancy is very little studied, ”she said. “[The National Institutes of Health division that] Supports Pregnancy and Pediatric Research is the NIH’s smallest and least funded institute.
However, she says, “It’s not just important, it’s fascinating. In what other area of medicine can we study a human developing from cell to person? This is so important from a clinical standpoint, and the more we can call attention to the importance of this area the better, and it deserves to have top notch people in all areas of the world. ‘expertise.
For more information on the Perinatal Discovery Center, including its June 26 online conference focusing on perinatal loss, visit medschool.ucsd.edu/som/pathology/research/Center-for-Perinatal-Discovery. ◆