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Su Lab

(left to right, Shuhan Ji, PhD, Kathryn Kilpatrick, MS, Diane Gumina, MS, Emily Su, MD)

Su Lab Research Focus:

Fetal growth restriction (FGR) secondary to placental insufficiency is a major cause of perinatal morbidity and mortality.  Of even more concern are fetuses that suffer from early-onset, severe growth restriction. As detected by Doppler ultrasound, these pregnancies often exhibit grave impairments in fetoplacental blood flow, leading to a high risk for stillbirth/neonatal death and neurodevelopmental delay and long-term health consequences in those infants that survive. Currently, no preventative or therapeutic measures for severe FGR exist other than delivery, and clinical data are clear that this intervention does not impact overall survival or long-term outcome. 

Our lab’s primary research focus is to better understand the molecular mechanisms underlying abnormal placental blood flow and function. One common finding in placentas from pregnancies complicated by severe FGR is maldevelopment of the placental vascular tree as a consequence of impaired angiogenesis. We are investigating cellular and molecular derangements from human placental endothelial cells isolated from pregnancies complicated by severe FGR that underlie compromised endothelial cell migration. More recently, we have begun to study the role of the placental microenvironment, with focus on the placental villous stroma and on placental endothelial cell-extracellular matrix interactions. The ultimate goal of our research is to understand mechanisms underlying aberrant placental function in severe FGR that will lead to prevention strategies and treatment modalities.

Research Complex-2, P15-3450C
12700 E. 19th Avenue, MS 8613
Aurora, CO  80045
Laboratory Phone:  303-724-9240​

Emily J Su, MD, MSCI - Principal investigator 

Hometown: Chicago, IL


-Fellowship: Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, 2007

-Residency: Obstetrics and Gynecology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, 2004

-M.S. in Clinical Investigation, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, 2007

-M.D., University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, 2000

-B.A., Brown University, Providence, RI, 1996

Fun Facts: I took a knitting class once several years ago, and I’m STILL trying to knit one of my dogs (a Siberian husky). Somehow, every attempt leads to him looking like a pterodactyl. ​ 


Shuhan Ji, Post-doctoral Fellow

Hometown: Shenyang, Liaoning, China


-Ph.D. in Animal Physiology, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, USA, 2015

-M.S. in Animal Breeding and Reproduction, Northwest A&F University, Yangling, Shaanxi, China, 2010                  

-B.S. in Biotechnology, Dalian Polytechnic University, Dalian, Liaoning, China, 2006 

Fun Facts:  I like reading and swimming when I get some free time. My husband likes for me to ski together with him and our kids, but I hate the cold weather!

Research Overview: My research has been focused on studying fetoplacental angiogenesis by utilizing primary isolated fetoplacental endothelial cells from both FGR (fetal growth restricted) and control placentas. To better evaluate the role of the placental microenvironment in fetoplacental angiogenesis, I have successfully developed a protocol to isolate human placental stromal villous fibroblasts, from which I am able to generate cell-derived matrices (CDM). Using placental endothelial cells, stromal fibroblasts, and CDM isolated from control and FGR placentas, our lab has the ability to investigate the molecular signaling between fetoplacental endothelial cells and stromal extracellular matrix, allowing us to better understand the how endothelial cell-extracellular matrix interactions regulate placental angiogenesis in normal and FGR placentas.


Diane Gumina, PhD Student

Hometown: Sterling, Colorado


-Ph.D. in progress in Cell Biology, Stem Cells and Development Graduate Program, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

-M.S. in Biology, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, 2014

-B.A. in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado Boulder, 2009

Fun Facts:  I used to be a ski instructor for 3-6 year-olds. As I am sure you can imagine, that job came with many funny stories!

Research Overview: We have previously shown that endothelial cells isolated from FGR placentas demonstrate reduced angiogenic capacity in vitro, and my project is working to understand the mechanisms that are responsible for this impairment. Specifically, I am characterizing the differences in focal adhesion complexes between FGR and control term cells and assessing how these differences contribute to diminished functional capacity.  


Kathryn Kilpatrick​, PRA

Hometown: Fort Smith, Arkansas


-M.S. in Molecular Biology, University of Colorado Denver, 2018

-B.A. in Environmental Biology, Hendrix College, Conway, AR, 2013

Fun Facts: I love to ski, paint, and bake. I used to be an organic farmer before being drawn back to bench research.

Research Overview: My role in the lab is assisting with key experiments and evaluating potential sex-specific differences in the placenta. Sex as a biological variable is well-established as a key mediator of health and disease. Understanding how the placenta differs based on fetal sex may provide important clues as to why male and female neonates exhibit varying risks for adverse outcomes.​

Ji S, Xin H, Su EJ. Overexpression of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator partially rescues fetoplacental angiogenesis in severe fetal growth restriction. Clin Sci (Lond). 2019 06 28; 133(12):1353-1365. PMID: 31189688.​

Ji S, Xin H, Li Y, Su EJ. FMS-like tyrosine kinase 1 (FLT1) is a key regulator of fetoplacental endothelial cell migration and angiogenesis​. Placenta. 2018 Oct;70:7-14. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2018.08.004. Epub 2018 Aug 20. Select item 290975902.

Li, Y, Lorca RA, Su EJ. Molecular and cellular underpinnings of normal and abnormal human placental blood flows.​ J Mol Endocrinol​. 2018 Jan;60(1):R9-R22. doi: 10.1530/JME-170139. Epub 2017 Nov 2. Review.

Gumina DL, Su EJ. Endothelial Progenitor Cells of the Human Placenta and Fetoplacental Circulation: A Potential Link to Fetal, Neonatal, and Long-term Health. Front Pediatr. 2017 Mar 15;5:41. doi: 10.3389/fped.2017.00041. eCollection 2017. Review. PubMed PMID: 28361046; PubMed Central PMCID:


Mestan KK, Gotteiner N, Porta N, Grobman W, Su EJ, Ernst LM. Cord Blood Biomarkers of Placental Maternal Vascular Underperfusion Predict Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia-Associated Pulmonary Hypertension. J Pediatr. 2017 Jun;185:33-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.01.015. Epub 2017 Feb 2. PubMed PMID: 28162769; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5529237.

Palatnik A, Xin H, Su EJ. Dichotomous effects of aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) activation on human fetoplacental endothelial cell function. Placenta. 2016 Aug;44:61-8. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2016.06.004. Epub 2016 Jun 11. PubMed PMID: 27452439; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4964606.

Blundell C, Tess ER, Schanzer AS, Coutifaris C, Su EJ, Parry S, Huh D. A microphysiological model of the human placental barrier. Lab Chip. 2016 Aug 2;16(16):3065-73. doi: 10.1039/c6lc00259e. PubMed PMID: 27229450; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4970951.

Su EJ. Role of the fetoplacental endothelium in fetal growth restriction with abnormal umbilical artery Doppler velocimetry. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2015 Oct;213(4 Suppl):S123-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2015.06.038. Review. PubMed PMID: 26428491; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4592515.


Su EJ, Xin H, Yin P, Dyson M, Coon J, Farrow KN, Mestan KK, Ernst LM.  Impaired fetoplacental angiogenesis in growth-restricted fetuses with abnormal umbilical artery Doppler velocimetry is mediated by aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator (ARNT).  J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2015; 100: E30-40.

Mestan KK, Check J, Minturn L, Yallapragada S, Farrow KN, Liu X, Su E, Porta N, Gotteiner N, Ernst LM.  Placental pathologic changes of maternal vascular underperfusion in bronchopulmonary dysplasia and pulmonary hypertension.  Placenta 2014; 35: 570-574.

Voller SB, Chock S, Ernst LM, Su E, Liu X, Farrow KN, Mestan KK.  Cord blood biomarkers of vascular endothelial growth (VEGF and sFLT-1) and postnatal growth: A preterm birth cohort study.  Early Hum Dev 2014; 90: 195-200.

Ernst LM, Minturn L, Huang MH, Curry E, Su EJ.  Gross patterns of umbilical cord coiling: Correlations with placental histology and stillbirth.  Placenta 2013; 34: 583-588. 

Robinson BK, Su E, Grobman W, Huang M, Ernst LM.  The association of histologic placental inflammation with category II fetal heart tracings.  Pediatr Dev Pathol 2012; 15: 298-302. 

Su EJ, Xin H, Monsivais D.  The emerging role of estrogen receptor-beta in human reproduction.  Semin Reprod Med 2012; 30: 62-70. 

Su EJ, Ernst L, Abdallah N, Chatterton R, Xin H, Monsivais D, Coon J, Bulun SE.  Estrogen receptor-beta and fetoplacental endothelial prostanoid biosynthesis: A link to clinically demonstrated fetal growth restriction.  J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2011; 96: E1558-1567.

Su EJ, Lin ZH, Zeine R, Yin P, Reierstad S, Innes JE, Bulun SE.  Estrogen receptor-beta mediates cyclooxygenase-2 expression and vascular prostanoid levels in human placental villous endothelial cells.  Am J Obstet Gynecol 2009; 200: e1-8.  Editor’s Choice for Basic Science: Obstetrics.​

·         Center for Women's Health Research Multi-Disciplinary Seed Grant. Characterization of a specific endothelial progenitor cell population within the human placenta.

·         R01 HL 119846.  Mediators of impaired angiogenesis in fetal growth restriction.​

2019 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists District VIII Mentor of the Year Award (EJS)

2019 Best Graduate Poster award at Department of Reproductive Sciences Research Retreat (DLG)

2016 International Federation of Placenta Associations Early Career Research Award (EJS)

2015 Society for Reproductive Investigation President’s Achievement Award (EJS)

Scientific Program Director; Society for Reproductive Investigation 2015 Annual Meeting (EJS)

2008 NIH Young Investigator Awardee to the Perinatal Research Society (EJS)

2000 The Harry Garber, M.D., Distinguished Alumnus Award, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine (EJS)

2000 Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine (EJS)​