Extracellular vesicles are small membrane-enclosed 'bubbles' released from cells. In the last few decades, extracellular vesicles (EVs) have been shown to be involved in communication between cells. Many scientists are now studying the role of EVs in cell-cell communication in health and disease.
They can be found in many body fluids, including blood and urine, and are therefore being studied as a potential source of new biomarkers for a range of diseases.
We are studying the role of EVs in pregnancy. We are particularly interested in understanding how EVs may be involved in communication between the placenta and the immune system.
In the first weeks of life, babies rely on protective proteins called antibodies, which are transferred across the placenta from the mother to the baby whilst still in the womb. In some cases, the amount of antibody transferred to the baby is not sufficient to protect the baby from infections, such as whooping cough.
Vaccines given in pregnancy aim to increase the amount of antibody in the mother’s blood, so that more antibody is transferred across the placenta to the baby so that the infant is protected until they are old enough to receive infant vaccines.
We are studying how antibodies cross the placenta from mother to baby. We are also studying how vaccination in pregnancy benefits the immune system of the mother and the infant.
During pregnancy, the mother's immune system undergoes changes that help support a healthy pregnancy. The baby and the placenta are made up of a combination of maternal and paternal genetic material. Therefore, the mother's immune system has to undergo local and systemic changes to 'tolerate' the presence of the developing baby.
The immune system of the mother also helps the pregnancy at a local level- helping the placenta to attach and grow into the womb lining, and helping to fight infections.
We are studying how the immune system is altered in pregnancy to help support the growth and development of the fetus. We are particularly interested in the role of monocytes and macrophages; a type of innate immune cell.
Before we are born, we all have a placenta. Formed from the fertilised egg, the placenta grows alongside the developing fetus. The placenta performs many important functions- such as providing the baby with the nutrients and oxygen it needs and protecting it from infection. Many pregnancy complications are associated with problems with the placenta. Therefore, improved understanding of placental development and function is essential for the development of treatments, or preventative measures for parents with complications in pregnancy.
We are studying placental function in early and late pregnancy. We are particularly interested in studying how placental cells migrate into the womb lining, how they form a barrier to stop unwanted substances to cross to the baby, how they transfer beneficial substances such as antibodies, and how they help to respond to infection and inflammation in the mother.