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Studying the Placenta to understand and prevent Fetal Growth Restriction

by YPU Admin on August 31, 2016, Comments. Tags: Fetal Growth Restriction, medicine, Placenta, Research Scientist, and UoM


My name is Kirsty McIntyre and I am a 2nd year PhD student funded by the Medical Research Council. I am based in St Mary's Hospital where I carry out my research as a member of the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Group. The work that I do aims to help us understand more about a condition called Fetal Growth Restriction, where the baby does not grow to its potential in the womb and can tragically lead to stillbirth. To learn more about how the nutrient demands of the baby are met during pregnancy I study the placenta - the organ attached to the baby's umbilical cord.

This lab work allows us to compare how appropriate growth is achieved in normal pregnancies, and compare this to cases of Fetal Growth Restriction. Understanding more about the placenta will allow us to understand more about the cause of Fetal Growth Restriction and thus help us to prevent it!

In Depth

I became interested in the field of pregnancy research and obstetrics from a single lecture I was given whilst studying for my undergraduate degree at Edinburgh Napier University. In the lecture we were taught about the 'Barker Hypothesis' which is the theory that chronic disease in adult life is associated with conditions in the womb. I was enthralled by this, it amazed me that our relatively short period in utero could have an influence on our long term health. I went on to investigate fetal development for my undergraduate honours project and that was me hooked!

In 2012 I graduated with a 1st class honours in Biomedical science and went on to spend a brief period in industry working for LifeScan Scotland (a Johnson & Johnson company) developing diabetic test strips. Whilst still keen on pursuing pregnancy research and to achieve a PhD, I spent the 2 years that followed traveling Asia and Australasia including a period teaching at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. I subsequently applied for my PhD here in Manchester via Skype having never visited the city!

Now in the 2nd year of my PhD, my days are varied but usually included some combination of lab work, data analysis, written work or planning future studies.

Our team is multi-disciplinary and consists of not only other lab scientists but also research midwives and clinical fellows who lead clinical trials and specialised clinics for high risk groups of women. I enjoy this work environment immensely as it is a constant reminder of the need for, and direct impact of, our research. Additionally, the collaboration between clinical and lab scientists creates an unique opportunity for researchers to carry out studies on human tissue. Our lab space is in the hospital building which allows me to collect placentas from consenting women who have given birth to babies with or without Fetal Growth Restriction for my experiments. These samples enable me to determine whether there are any differences between the 2 groups. It is this important research that I hope will ultimately lead to the development of therapeutic options for these women and their children.

I am very grateful to those women who donate their placentas to research, they are invaluable to my work!

Going Further

To read about what a day in the life of a research scientist is like, this blog was written by a student who shadowed me in the lab last year.

You can read about my research group here and here

Our research centre is one 3 UK centres funded by the charity Tommy's

I also collaborate with CADET Manchester.

Twitter @_kirstymcintyre