The aim of our laboratory is to understand the role of the placenta in a range of disease states. The placenta mediates multiple aspects of a successful pregnancy and placental dysfunction is implicated in gestational disorders such as gestational diabetes mellitus, preeclampsia, intrauterine growth restriction and preterm birth. The placenta also regulates many aspects of fetal development such that suboptimal placental function has been shown to increase the risk of metabolic disease, heart disease, kidney disease and psychological disorders in offspring.

Our group utilises both clinically relevant animal models and biological samples provided by pregnant women to better understand how a range of maternal parameters can influence these outcomes. We are particularly interested in understanding how maternal diet and stress can influence key biological processes necessary for a healthy pregnancy.  We are also interested in common placental adaptations which may relate to disease risk independent of any apparent maternal factor.

While not limited to just studying placental endocrinology, the relationship between placental function and hormones in pregnancy is a key theme in multiple projects within the group. This includes hormones of placental origin that may affect the mother and fetus but also maternal hormones that may impact placental function. Our group always characterised outcomes in both males and females separately as fetal sex plays a major role in determining disease risk and severity of symptoms.

Our laboratory is undertaking a broad range of projects ranging from analysis of dietary deficits in Queensland pregnant women through to characterising the role of specific posttranslational modifications in placental dysfunction. Our research group is highly collaborative and we work with colleagues across Queensland and interstate. Current projects being undertaken in the laboratory include:

  1. Understanding how current treatments for Gestational Diabetes mellitus affect placental function.
  2. Using a mouse model of selenium deficiency to understand how thyroid dysfunction in pregnancy mediates offspring metabolic disease.
  3. Understanding the role of placental oxidative stress in sex specific programmed offspring disease.
  4. Investigating risk of pregnancy disorders in relation to micronutrient intake.

Our laboratory utilises human samples collected from pregnant women, cell culture experiments and clinically relevant animal models. We are therefore able to ask the same questions using very different approaches which each complement other aspects of the study.

Specific techniques include: 

  • Biochemical analysis of various cellular processes- enzymatic assays, colourmetic assays, ELISAs and radioimmunoassays
  • Quantification of nutrients in biological samples (preparation for ICPMS)
  • Quantitative real-time PCR for gene expression analysis, assessment of mitochondrial content and genotyping
  • Western blot for protein quantification
  • Co-immunoprecipitation to assess interactions between proteins
  • Immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence for protein localisation in tissues
  • Histological/pathological staining
  • Metabolic analysis such analysis of glucose tolerance (GTT) in rodents and assessment of renal function
  • Cardiovascular physiology 
  • Placental and kidney stereology

NB: All animal experimentation is subject to approval by the University of Queensland Animal Ethics Committee and adheres to the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (National Health and Medical Research Council, 8th Edition, 2013)

Professor Karen Moritz
Director, Child Health Research Centre and
Professor in School of Biomedical Sciences
The University of Queensland

Professor Anthony Perkins
Dean (Academic) Faculty of Health
Griffith University

Professor Mary Wlodek
Department of Physiology
The University of Melbourne

Professor Vicki Clifton
Mater Medical Research Institute
Translational Research Institute
The University of Queensland

Dr David Simmons
School of Biomedical Sciences
The University of Queensland

Dr Marloes Nitert Dekker
School of Chemistry and Molecular Bioscience
The University of Queensland

Dr Helen Barret
Director of Endocrinology
Mater Hospital, QLD

Lab head

Students

  • Nykola Kent, PhD Student
  • Michael Sinclair, PhD Student
  • Montana Askew, Honours Student
  • Isaac Bray-Narai, Honours Student
  • Tulika Das, Honours Student