How did you get into research, why this area?
My research is all about inflammation in pregnancy and started 5 years ago looking at an inflammatory marker called "complement". This is a marker that has been poorly studied in pregnancy and specifically in early pregnancy.
There are a lot of inflammatory markers. We wanted to know if we could link elevated levels of complement in early pregnancy to complications of pregnancy We especially wanted to know the relationship of this marker with hypertensive disease in pregnancy.
We started out just measuring samples in women in early pregnancy, and followed this group of women right through to the end of pregnancy. We found elevated levels of the complement marker in early pregnancy in women who subsequently developed hypertensive disease of pregnancy and also in women who delivered a preterm baby. Because this work has to be done in phases, I chose to focus on the first 20 weeks of pregnancy as I started my research. The question remains what happens with this marker in the second half of pregnancy. I just received a new grant to look at complement at two points later on in pregnancy to see if the marker is more predictive of adverse pregnancy outcomes at these additional time points.
Why is this important?
One thing we found is that an elevated level of complement in addition to prepregnancy obesity augments a woman’s risk for hypertensive disease of pregnancy. This is important as currents statistics estimate that 23% of women in the childbearing age are obese. Obesity and a history of hypertensive disease in pregnancy are risk factors for cardiovascular disease later in the life of a woman.
One thing we are focused on is using the results of our studies to educate women about the impact of obesity and inflammation on the future risk of cardiovascular disease. We feel women may be more receptive to this message during the perinatal period. The real message to the community is that having a hypertensive condition in pregnancy can lead to cardiovascular disease later in life.
What are your hopes and dreams for your research?
I would love to develop a cohort of women who develop hypertension in pregnancy and follow them through the post partum period in order to do a thorough evaluation of their health in the non pregnant state, then empower them to take better care of their health in the future with specific focus on educating them about their risk factors for cardiovascular disease, specifically obesity.
What can we do to report on your work in a way that can be understood and valued by the general public?
More community outreach and partnerships, and extension of my reseach beyond the University.