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Improving placental energy metabolism and obstetric outcome in pathological pregnancies – lessons from high-altitude populations

Supervisor: Dr Andrew Murray (with Professor Graham Burton)

 

The placenta forms a vital interface between the mother and her developing fetus, mediating the transfer of oxygen, nutrients and waste products. In common complications of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, placental function becomes compromised risking the health of mother and child. Research from our laboratories has identified a key role for the placental mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell, which become suppressed in response to the oxidative stress arising in preeclampsia. This impairs cellular energetics, having a debilitating impact on placental activity and hence fetal growth. Exposure to hypoxia (low atmospheric oxygen) at high-altitude has a similar effect on fetal growth, with birthweights falling by 100g for every 1000m of ascent, and prevalence of preeclampsia increases. Populations adapted to high-altitude, however (e.g. Tibetans and Andeans), are relatively resistant to hypoxia-induced fetal growth restriction and preeclampsia, and this project aims to elucidate the mechanisms underlying this apparent protection by studying placental function in high altitude adapted populations. Furthermore, we will investigate two potential therapeutic strategies, based on dietary modification, which improve mitochondrial oxygen efficiency.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact me:
Email: ajm267@cam.ac.uk 
Telephone: +44 (0)1223 333863