Building credibility

Early results attract collaborators to study the risks of older age pregnancy

PerinatalAs a new Women and Children’s Health Research Institute recruit, Dr. Christy-Lynn Cooke started out with a modest basic science study into the impact of later pregnancy on mothers and babies. Three years later, Cooke—a clinician at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women (LHHW)—is working with a number of colleagues to collaboratively explore a growing trend that has significant health-care implications.

The age at which women give birth has been steadily increasing in Canada over the past 20 years. Nearly one in five babies is born to mothers who are 35 or older, and the numbers are growing. Older age pregnancies come with risks and the increased likelihood of complications, including preeclampsia. Mothers and children are also at more risk of experiencing chronic diseases later in life. Not enough research has been done into what contributes to these increased risks, however, notes Cooke, who is a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Alberta.

In her own study, she found evidence that the offspring of older mothers carry an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Cooke’s initial work has allowed her to build the momentum and experience needed for larger, collaborative projects. “WCHRI’s recruitment funding helps researchers like me who don’t have an established track record,” she observes. “Once you start getting some interesting study results, it becomes easier to forge collaborations with colleagues.”

She looks forward to working more closely with other maternal-fetal clinician-researchers at the LHHW, including Drs. Sue Chandra, Venu Jain, and Radha Chari, LHHW Chair in Women’s Health Research, as well as with Dr. Lisa Hornberger, a renowned pediatric cardiologist and Dr. Sandy Davidge, an international expert in preeclampsia, both at the U of A.

Cooke is particularly interested in studying the cardiovascular systems of older expectant moms, including utero-placental blood flow. “Is there something else going on in the intrauterine environment that potentially programs the children of these moms to have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease?” she wonders. “That’s what we’re seeing in our lab model right now.”

The critical early funding she received, along with the vibrant and supportive community provided by WCHRI, have laid a solid foundation for the growth of her research, says Cooke. “As a member of WCHRI, you end up meeting people in very diverse fields, and you realize, ‘What you do would align really well with what I do.’ It’s very cool.”

She anticipates making new discoveries in a vitally important area of women and children’s health research, and improving patient care at the LHHW, which already has a national reputation for treating high-risk pregnancies.
Cooke’s research has been funded by the generous support of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women, through WCHRI.

Lois Hole Hospital for Women