EFIS DAY OF IMMUNOLOGY 2011 BLOG:
FRONTIERS IN REPRODUCTION MEETING
1 May - 11 June 2011, Marine Biology Laboratory,
Woods Hole, MA, USA
Meet our author… RUPSHA FRASER
My first degree was in Biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh. I subsequently became interested in reproductive biology when I was doing my Masters at the University of Leeds. My research project was looking into the immunogenetics of pre-eclampsia (PE). Pre-eclampsia is a condition that can develop during pregnancy, with potentially serious consequences for both mother and unborn child. This sparked my interest both in pre-eclampsia and pregnancy research in general, so I started a PhD at St George’s, University of London, investigating the role of decidual natural killer (dNK) cells in pregnancy, comparing pregnancies that have been defined as normal healthy pregnancies or those that are at high risk of pre-eclampsia development.
As I am coming to the end of my PhD, I want to carry on doing investigative research in the reproductive field. I am particularly interested in maternal-fetal interactions in early pregnancy, and would like to learn more about how immune cell reactions and cell signalling in very early pregnancy could determine the later stages of pregnancy and how these early stage processes might be influencing complications such as preterm delivery, IUGR and pre-eclampsia, as well as pathological conditions like endometriosis and endometrial cancer, and to learn about what processes might be held accountable in disease progression.
My PhD research…
Pre-eclampsia causes extensive maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality worldwide. dNK cells are the main maternal immune cell component in the uterus during pregnancy and are phenotypically different from peripheral blood NK cells. During normal pregnancy, maternal spiral arteries in the uterus must be remodelled. Spiral arteries are very narrow and high resistance vessels that are remodelled into larger diameter, higher flow vessels during pregnancy. This change is necessary for support and development of the growing fetus, but in pre-eclamptic pregnancies, there is inadequate spiral artery remodelling.
During my research, I have determined that dNK cells may be initiating the remodelling process by inducing apoptosis of the vascular cells lining the spiral arteries, causing destabilisation of endothelial cell 3D vessel-like structures and aiding trophoblast cell (a specialised placental cell-type paramount in the remodelling process) motility to allow their movement towards the spiral arteries, all of which are important components of spiral artery remodelling. However, dNK cells from high risk pregnancies showed reduced trophoblast motility, failed to induce vascular cell apoptosis and were less able to destabilise EC vessel-like structures, which may contribute to the poor spiral artery remodelling seen in PE.
The Frontiers in Research Programme…
My research interests led me to apply for the Frontiers in Research (FIR)
programme. FIR is an intensive six-week intensive lab and lecture-based course in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, situated on the beautiful Cape Cod. This programme has been designed for early career scientists who want to pursue a career in reproductive research. I believe the opportunity to meet and work with the authorities and scholars of reproductive research, as well as other new researchers like myself, in an intensive and intimate environment such as the FIR programme, will be highly beneficial in the formation of new international collaborations and will certainly prove to be invaluable in generating and developing my research ideas. I am very excited (and also slightly apprehensive) as I am about to embark on this trip to the other side of the world to get immersed in science – which has been depicted by some as a "scientific boot camp" and by others as a "theme park for investigators", as described on the FIR 2011 website!
Updates from FIR...
Immunology has had a long and fruitful association with the science of reproduction, including the searching insights of Nobel Laureate Sir Peter Medawar
, who explored the conundrum of how the unborn child is shielded from the maternal immune system
despite being a 'hybrid' of maternal & paternal tissues (allograft). The question of how the mother is nevertheless able to protect the foetus from infection, via maternal antibodies, is also of continued interest.
Rupsha will be providing updates from the FIR meeting over the six weeks of the course - so keep this page bookmarked!