Placental defects often have a detrimental impact on the health and well-being of both the mother and her child. This impact has the potential to reach well beyond the pregnancy period: abnormalities are linked with an increased risk of certain conditions that can develop later, such as cardiovascular disease. As Canada Research Chair in Developmental Genetics and Epigenetics, Dr. Myriam Hemberger is trying to better understand the molecular mechanisms that underpin the development and function of the placenta.
Hemberger and her team are using recent breakthrough technologies to grow placenta-derived stem cells in combination with other uterine cells to better understand the molecular networks that govern early placentation. They hope to uncover precisely how the placenta affects the development of specific embryonic organ systems, notably the heart and the brain. They are also investigating how advanced maternal age may affect normal placentation. Ultimately, Hemberger’s research is paving the way for better options to diagnose and treat common pregnancy complications, such as pre-eclampsia, preterm birth and still birth, and to prevent certain later-onset diseases linked to an abnormal placenta.