Shruti Shah

Supervisor: Sandra Davidge

Project: Treating the placenta to improve pregnancy outcomes

Degree program:

Medicine & Dentistry-Obstetrics & Gynecology Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry studentship in placental research

Lay abstract:

It’s now recognized that an inadequate environment within a mother's womb can adversely affect the fetus and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in adult life. A fetus that doesn’t get enough supply of oxygen and nutrients may be born growth restricted. The organ responsible for supplying the developing fetus with adequate resources is the placenta. The placenta acts both as a barrier and point of nutrient and waste exchange between the mother and the developing child. Growth restriction is frequently associated with an oxygen deficient and underdeveloped placenta. Decreased placental oxygen availability leads to increased production of harmful molecules (oxidants) that may adversely affect normal development and functioning of the placenta. Such oxidants become more abundant in the placenta when the availability of helpful molecules (antioxidants) decreases. Oxidants can reduce the supply of oxygen to the fetus by breaking down substances that promote normal placental function and additionally, produce toxic compounds detrimental to placental development. The largest producer of oxidants is the mitochondria inside the cell. There is now increased interest in assessing the beneficial role of the antioxidant, MitoQ which provides protection against oxidants produced by the mitochondria. However, previous studies giving antioxidants to the mother have shown adverse effects on the fetus. Therefore, in our current study we will investigate treatment of an animal model of growth restriction with MitoQ attached to nanoparticles (nMitoQ). The advantage of using the nanoparticles is the restriction of the antioxidant to the mother and placenta without crossing the placental barrier and allowing access to the fetal circulation; thereby avoiding off target effects on the fetus. We hypothesize that treatment with nMitoQ will restore placental function and will thereby prevent abnormal cardiac development and disease in later life.

What motivated you to participate in this research?

I wanted to pursue this opportunity as it would serve as my first hands-on research in a real life lab setting. This opportunity would provide me with a platform where I could present my research, build confidence in public speaking and gain recognition within the scientific community. I was also motivated towards pursuing this opportunity as it would serve as a great place for me to get a head start into learning about common lab protocols and build the knowledge that would help me successfully complete my undergraduate research project in my fourth year. Being enrolled in a research based program, I believed this opportunity would increase my self-confidence by training me to be a proficient researcher, a skill necessary towards completion of my degree. I wished to pursue this under Sandy Davidge's mentorship as her research areas matched my interests. An objective of the Davidge Lab is to explore innovative treatment strategy during pregnancy to avoid passage of drugs into the fetus using antioxidants packaged into nanoparticles as a delivery system. Having worked with nanoparticles in the past, I found this research area to be novel and challenging as drug use is limited in pregnancies due to their passage into the fetus. I was confident that working on this project under Sandy Davidge's mentorship, would serve as a great opportunity for me to develop skills required for research now and in my future career.

What are your career aspirations?

I aspire to pursue a career in the field of medicine while engaging in research aimed towards improving women's health and pregnancy outcomes. The field of medicine is constantly evolving and adapting to keep up with the fast paced technological advancements. I love how it forces one to stretch beyond their comfort zone and have a widened perspective that can adapt to fit the new discoveries in their field. This would encourage me to keep up with current events and have an awareness of the contemporary medical advancements instead of solely regurgitating textbook information. Women's health concerns, especially in the post-partum period, are often overshadowed by their children's health and overlooked by health professionals. They undergo weekly check-ups before labour; however, upon delivering the baby they do not see a medical professional for weeks. They themselves disregard their regular checkups and seldom partake in preventative measures to maintain their own health. I’m passionate in working towards developing economically feasible strategies that can be incorporated in the healthcare system to provide proper maternal care. I wish to be a professional in the field of gynecology and obstetrics to ensure that I can help in providing women with the prioritized and adequate maternal care. Prioritizing proper maternal care can not only prevent several issues women undergo later in their life, but can also serve to decrease financial burden it has on the healthcare system.

How has this studentship helped you toward those aspirations?

This studentship has helped me successfully pursue my first research endeavor and enabled me to gain skill sets that I can utilize towards my degree. Research is a critical component of my honours degree. This studentship has provided me with an opportunity to gain lab exposure and master several lab protocols such as Western blotting and immunohistochemistry. Research labs are very different from the course labs that undergraduate students are exposed to. Through this studentship I was provided with an excellent opportunity to familiarize myself with a real life lab setting, and build a strong foundation of knowledge and skills that I will be able to utilize in the future. Moreover, this opportunity has helped me solidify my career aspirations by sparking further interest about the research and advancements done towards enhancing women's health. My project has taught me a lot about unique proteins, mechanisms and helped me gain a deeper understanding on the workings of a placenta. It has also made me more confident with public speaking and helped me expand my social circle through meeting other like-minded people. Above all, the studentship has provided me with exposure to the unique and astonishing research currently being conducted to improve women's health all over the world and widened my perspective as I strive towards the future.