Wendy Duan

Supervisor: Meghan Riddell

Project: Learning more about risk in advanced age pregnancies

“It is important to conduct this research because advanced age pregnancies are becoming more prevalent in Canada.”

In Canada, advanced-age pregnancies (AAP) are becoming more common. AAP is when a pregnant person is older than 35 years; this increases the risk of having pregnancy issues like preterm birth or miscarriage. More research needs to be done to understand why AAPs are at a higher risk. 

A tissue layer called the endometrium covers the inside of the uterus. During pregnancy, the endometrium changes into the decidua through a process called decidualization. The decidua brings nutrients to the fetus, protects the fetus, and allows the placenta to develop. A key feature of decidualization is blood vessel remodelling where the blood vessel network grows and expands and allows blood to flow to the placenta. Endothelial cells are the cells that line the blood vessels and they drive decidualization. Defects or delays in decidualization can lead to severe pregnancy issues. 

An important controller of decidualization is when progesterone, a hormone that increases during pregnancy, binds to progesterone receptors. Studies in lab models have found that about 25 per cent of endothelial cells have progesterone receptors. Even though there are not many of them, when the progesterone receptor expressing endothelial cells are lost, pregnancies are less successful. We have initial data suggesting there are fewer progesterone receptor expressing endothelial cells in AAP compared to young decidua. We propose that these decreases may lead to poor blood vessel remodelling and decidualization in AAP. 

In this project, we will collect endothelial cells from decidua to confirm whether there are changes in the number of progesterone receptor expressing endothelial cells in young versus AAP decidua. We will also develop a method to separate progesterone receptor expressing cells from other endothelial cells. In the future, these findings could be used to develop treatments that decrease the complication risks associated with AAP.

Wendy Duan was supervised by Meghan Riddell 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 Honors program.