Megan Sheridan

Graduate Student, Department of Biochemistry

My thesis research focuses on early placenta development and its relationship with adverse fetal outcomes during pregnancy. About 8% of pregnant women experience a disease called Preeclampsia, which in severe forms is a major cause of death in both the mother and baby. Lack of treatments, other than delivery of the baby, is due to poor understanding of what actually causes the disease. In general, there is little understood about early placental development mainly because it is impossible to study the developing placenta during pregnancy without terminating the pregnancy. Even more so, the first few weeks of pregnancy is virtually unstudied, because at that time the mother does not even know she is pregnant. To try and solve this problem, our lab has developed a system utilizing stem cells to “re-create” what the early placental cells look like, and therefore we can use this system to study defects in the placental cells generated from disease patients. We collect umbilical cord cells of babies born to mothers experiencing Preeclampsia, and then convert these cells to stem cells. Once in the stem cell form, we can then change them into placental like cells and study any defects they might have in that state. By doing this, we may be able to identify what is going wrong early in placenta development, and therefore be able to open up avenues for treatments.

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