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Reducing cardiovascular disease by preventing preeclampsia

Dr Alison Care, Institution: University of Adelaide

2018 Future Leader Fellowship

Years funded: 2019-2023


In a healthy pregnancy, the mother’s blood vessels adapt and grow to enable sufficient supply of oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby. However, in the pregnancy complication known as preeclampsia, the mother’s blood vessels do not adapt properly,
resulting in a reduced blood supply to the placenta and baby.

We have identified a specialised immune cell in the mother’s blood that helps the blood vessels to adapt and function properly in pregnancy - regulatory T (Treg) cells. These cells suppress inflammation and promote a healthy pregnancy.

Treg cells, through their anti-inflammatory actions, show promise for life-long protection against cardiovascular disease. In women with preeclampsia however, the number and benefits of these Treg cells is reduced. Our recent study in mice demonstrates that reduced Treg cells impairs blood flow in the uterine artery, which supplies blood to the baby, and causes babies to be growth restricted.

This proposal aims to investigate how Treg cells help blood vessels to adapt and function in pregnant mice, and whether administering Treg cells improves the blood supply to the baby, and reduces cardiovascular disease in postpartum mothers and their offspring.

In pregnant women, we will look at the number and function of their Treg cells, and how their blood vessels are working via ultrasound. We will monitor whether they go on to have a health pregnancy or develop preeclampsia. This study will enable us to determine whether in women, like we see in mice, Treg cell number and function affects how well the blood vessels work. If so, targeting Treg cells may be a promising therapy in pregnancy, and could prevent or reduce the severity of preeclampsia.

The ultimate goal of this research is to reduce the number of Australians burdened by cardiovascular disease by preventing preeclampsia.

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