Miscarriage, preeclampsia and fetal growth restriction are pregnancy complications arising from poor implantation and placentation affecting up to 9% of all pregnancies. Remarkably there are currently no predictive biomarkers and limited pharmacological treatment options. Despite this, the critical processes which facilitate implantation, placentation and maternal tolerance towards the fetus in humans remain poorly understood and has contributed to the lack of treatment options. My research goal is to understand how maternal decidual and immune, and fetal cells interact to facilitate appropriate placentation and maternal tolerance to establish a healthy pregnancy.
The interplay between these cells in the decidua has not been extensively studied largely due to the lack of appropriate models. My team has developed unique in vitro and in vivo models to identify the key factors in maternal-fetal dialogue during early placentation. As trophoblast invading into the decidua represent the first contact between fetal cells and the maternal immune system, the decidua is a critical site for the maternal immune system to develop tolerance towards fetal antigens. My research has discovered a role for the decidua in the establishment of maternal tolerance and that invasive trophoblast actively secrete factors which repress the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines by decidual and immune cells. Some key regulators identified using our unique models are also identified in maternal sera prior to the establishment of certain pregnancy disorders. My research paves the way for the development of much needed diagnostics and treatments for pregnancy disorders associated with abnormal implantation and placental development.