Cole Delyea

Supervisor: Shokrollah Elahi

Project: Investigating the role of immunosuppressive CD71+ erythroid cells during pregnancy

Degree program:

Medicine & Dentistry-Dentistry and Dental Hygiene

Lay abstract:

Survival of the fetus through pregnancy depends on the maintenance of immune tolerance to the non-self antigens present in the fetus. The fetus has half of its antigens originating from the mother and half from the father; the mother's immune system tries to reject the fetus because it sees the fetus as foreign to the mother's immune system. Therefore, the mother's immune system needs to be suppressed during the pregnancy in order to allow the fetus to survive. Multiple localized mechanisms in the placenta contribute to fetal evasion from the mother's immune rejection. Here, we propose that immature red blood cells (CD71+ erythroid cells) also contribute in a good pregnancy outcome. Our preliminary data shows that these cells are expanded during pregnancy in the mother's blood, placenta and cord blood. Interestingly, these cells are absent in healthy adults and non-pregnant women. We have recently discovered that these cells have immunosuppressive properties (can suppress the immune cells). Therefore, in this proposal I will characterize the functionality of these cells by doing a wide range of experiments. In addition, I will deplete these cells in a pregnancy mouse model by administering antibody against a marker on the surface of immature red blood cells. I also will investigate the presence and functionality of similar cells in human cord blood, placenta and mother's peripheral blood. These studies will enable me to understand the role of these newly identified cells in human and mouse pregnancy. Thus, my study will reveal a previously unappreciated role for immature red blood cells in pregnancy with potential application for manipulating them for a good pregnancy outcome.

What motivated you to participate in this research?

Ever since I was young, I had the feeling that I wanted to do something to help people. As time went on, I realized that I could do this in many ways, but I always had a fascination with biology. Throughout my life, I’ve seen many family members, and friends face health challenges such as asthma, cancer and miscarriages. What struck me were the many unanswered questions about these health issues. Additionally, all throughout my schooling, I adored learning about the intracellular processes that made up all of the life as we knew it. This led me to want to be able to contribute to the larger body of knowledge so that with each day is a step closer to being able to help more people. I then figured that the way that most suited me to be able to do this was through scientific research in the health sciences field.

What are your career aspirations?
My overall career goal is pursuing a master's degree in immunology and infection in order to improve the breadth and depth of my knowledge and experience in the field. Following that, I intend to move into a more translational research program by transitioning to industry research which would hopefully lead to being part of a team that works on human health. I would like to join teams that focus on the intricacies of fetal-maternal tolerance, and the underlying mechanisms that facilitate that phenomenon. I wish to continue working in human-related research in particular understanding the molecular mechanism of unsuccessful pregnancy outcome. Through this, I hope to be part of a research team to come up with a better understanding of reasons behind unsuccessful pregnancy outcomes with potential therapeutic approaches.
How has this studentship helped you toward those aspirations?

By participating in this summer studentship I’ve acquired more technical skills and knowledge which helped me to be efficient and productive. I’ve also gathered more soft skills, like better critical thinking, generating new scientific questions and problem-solving skills. These skills have helped me towards my goals by preparing me for graduate school, and being able to manage my own projects. I’ve also gained more knowledge and studied further in depth into the mechanics of fetal-maternal tolerance, which propels me to my later career stage by giving me the background necessary to design and perform pregnancy related experiments. Additionally, I’ve been given the opportunity to interact with many new people and get to be exposed to a wide range of research projects, which have helped me to broaden my scientific vision and has improved my critical thinking skills. This opportunity has assisted me in many ways by expanding my knowledge, increasing my ability to face new challenges and how to overcome them as they arise.