Christy Chan

“It's important to do this research because a healthy pregnancy sets us up with a foundation for lifelong health.”

Characterizing the structure and function of blood vessels from aging pregnant mothers

In the past 30 years, the proportion of mothers becoming pregnant at or over age 35 has more than doubled. This "advanced maternal age" poses serious risks to both maternal and offspring health. As maternal age increases, the likelihood of pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia (elevated blood pressure during pregnancy), poor fetal growth and preterm birth increases dramatically.

During pregnancy, the maternal system of blood vessels undergoes several changes to accommodate the growing fetus. For example, the blood vessels become more relaxed to ensure sufficient oxygen and nutrient delivery for fetal growth and development. Previous research in aged animal model pregnancies demonstrated that the blood vessels that supply the placenta and uterus are more constricted and stiffer, which could reduce this blood flow. Aging in humans also produces similar effects on the blood vessels and, as older women have more complications with their pregnancies, this suggests their blood vessels may be contributing to this. However, knowledge gaps persist as to the molecular pathways through which blood vessel structure and function may differ between older and younger pregnant women.

For the first time, we aim to characterize the function and structure of systemic arteries of older pregnant women compared to the arteries of younger women. We will do this by assessing blood vessels collected from fat biopsies at the time of Caesarean section, to measure their function and stiffness. Then, using molecular biology techniques, we will confirm our findings and identify key molecular and structural features in the walls of these blood vessels. Ultimately, these findings will further our understanding of blood vessel function in women with pregnancies at advanced maternal age, which will contribute to improving women's health and pregnancy outcomes.

Christy Chan was supervised by Sandra Davidge and her summer studentship was funded by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation. She is enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Physiology program.