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Placental Development

Our group is interested in understanding the complex roles of the placenta environment in maternal health and foetal outcomes. 

The four main complications of pregnancy—preeclampsia, preterm birth, intrauterine growth restriction and gestational diabetes—affect one in four first pregnancies and may be life threatening to the mother and/or baby. 

Globally more than 300,000 women die each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Additionally, there are 15 million preterm births annually and this is the greatest contributing factor to the six million children who die before their fifth birthday. There are currently no screening tools in clinical practice to identify pregnant women at risk—largely because of a poor understanding of the pathogenesis of pregnancy complications and the complex interrelationships with causal factors.

The Placental Development group has established pregnancy cohort databases and biobanks—as well as ex vivo, in vitro and animal models—to investigate the molecular profile of the placenta across gestation at the genome and epigenome levels; molecular mechanisms by which fetal sex impacts pregnancy outcome; and how micronutrients impact placental development and function in vivo, in vitro and in pregnancy success.

Our research program in human pregnancy and mouse models is revealing novel molecular mechanisms by which maternal micronutrient status can impact placental and fetal development and function.

We have filed a patent application for our algorithms that predict a first time mother's risk of pregnancy complications early in her pregnancy. We identified molecular pathways in the placenta that are perturbed in pregnancy complications and demonstrate important effects of gene environment interactions on placental differentiation and function, and on fetal growth.

Lead researcher: Professor Claire Roberts

Research team

Research support
  • Dylan McCullough (Research assistant)
  • Amy Garrett (PhD student)
  • Michelle Plummer (PhD student)
  • Dr Dee McCormack (PhD student)
  • Nahal Habibi (PhD student)
  • Melanie Smith (PhD student SAFW)
  • Justin Bogias (PhD student)
  • Qianhui Wan (PhD student)
  • Maleesa Pathirana (PhD student)
  • Martha Menberu (PhD student)
  • Erica Langley (Honours student)

Interested in undertaking a postgraduate research degree with us?

We offer exciting opportunities for researchers at the honours, masters and PhD levels. Our research degrees are open to students from a broad range of backgrounds, and range from basic sciences to clinical research. If you are interested in human health, consider furthering your research career with us.