Reducing the burden of chronic disease
Davidge lab makes breakthroughs in high-risk pregnancies
On any given day, the Davidge laboratory is a beehive of activity with undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and lab technicians busily working on their research studies.
The second floor lab in the Heritage Medical Research Centre at the University of Alberta has been the site of cutting-edge studies on cardiovascular complications in pregnancy and the impact on the long-term health of mothers and babies. The lab is driven by the inspired, exacting leadership of Dr. Sandy Davidge, an internationally recognized expert in her field, a long-term holder (2007-2021) of a prestigious tier one Canada Research Chair in maternal and perinatal cardiovascular health and the director of the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.
“Improving treatment for cardiovascular dysfunction during pregnancy is not only important for the health outcomes of mothers and their babies,” says Davidge, “but it has far-reaching implications for population health and reducing the burden of chronic diseases.”
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in Canada and worldwide. Preventing and treating cardiovascular problems early on would greatly decrease the risk—and related costs—of developing the disease later in life. Prevention and treatment could begin in pregnancy, says Davidge, who notes that up to 20 per cent of pregnancies are affected by complications, such as preeclampsia or poor fetal growth. These complications often lead to lifelong cardiovascular problems for both mothers and children, and the complications are increasing as more women opt to have their babies at a later age.
Davidge and her team have made a number of breakthrough discoveries in cardiovascular function during pregnancy. They discovered, for example, that the placenta of women who are suffering from preeclampsia sloughs off micro-particles, activating a complex chain of reactions that impair the function of cells in blood vessels. This could lead to dangerously high blood pressure in pregnant moms and decreased blood flow to their babies, impeding their cardiovascular development.
Her pioneering work in cardiovascular disease has influenced the understanding and research of leading scientists in the field and has led to partnerships between Davidge and other renowned investigators, including at the Universities of Oxford and Bristol. “Each new discovery brings us closer to a therapeutic treatment and to better health outcomes for mothers and children, and overall population health,” says Davidge. “I can’t think of anything more exciting than being able to contribute to that.”
Davidge’s research is supported by generous supporters of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women and the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through WCHRI.