Amy Wooldridge Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology

Why do older women have a higher risk of pregnancy complications?

More Canadian women are waiting until later in life to have their first child, with 22 per cent delivering babies after the age of 35.

Wooldridge notes that during a normal pregnancy, a woman’s blood vessels undergo massive changes to provide sufficient blood supply to the fetus. If the blood vessels don’t adapt as they should during pregnancy, there is a risk of complications such as high blood pressure and low birth weight, which affect the short and long-term cardiovascular health of the mother and child.

Being over the age of 35 is one of the most common risk factors for these pregnancy complications and is thought to be due to inappropriate adaptations of the mother’s blood vessels during pregnancy. However, developing interventions against the complex interaction between aging and pregnancy in blood vessels requires a greater understanding of the specific mechanisms.

Previously, Wooldridge’s co-supervisors discovered underlying mechanisms that impair the function of blood vessels in the uterus. Wooldridge’s fellowship project will build on this work to identify the specific mechanisms that impair function in order to develop appropriate treatments for improving pregnancy outcomes, which could have a tremendous impact on the cardiovascular health of generations to come.

“The fellowship provides me with a much greater opportunity to specialize in my field,” says Wooldridge, who hopes that her findings lead to the development of new therapeutics that target pregnancy complications and improve pregnancy health.

Wooldridge is co-supervised by Sandra Davidge and Christy-Lynn Cooke. Her fellowship has been funded by the generosity of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.

Additional support was also provided by the William & Florence Lede Family Foundation.