We are interested in what activates the female immune system at the time of conception, allowing for the conferral of immunological tolerance before the embryo implants into the placenta.
In pregnancy, the female immune system recognises the fetus as foreign and as such, special adaptation is required to prevent rejection. An active state of immunological tolerance must be present to allow embryo implantation and development. Many common reproductive and pregnancy disorders—including unexplained infertility, recurrent miscarriage, preeclampsia and preterm birth—have their origins in immune and inflammatory disturbances that impact on placental development and leave the fetus vulnerable to immune and inflammatory attack.
The Reproductive Immunology Group focuses on events at conception that illicit a sequence that acts to stimulate the generation regulatory T cells (Treg cells). Treg cells are anti-inflammatory and protect the implanting embryo and developing placenta.
Recently, we made significant progress in understanding molecular pathways by which the immune response contributes to pregnancy and offspring health. Our work has demonstrated that the male partner makes an important contribution to the peri-conception environment.
We are expanding our studies to explore how both sperm and seminal plasma factors interact with cells in the female reproductive tract, regulating gene expression to impact pathways that control uterine receptivity to embryo implantation.
Additionally, we are investigating new drug compounds for tackling preterm birth. By suppressing the pro-inflammatory pathway activated by infection or by sterile insults, small molecules that block Toll-like receptor 4 and/or peptide antagonists of Interleukin-1 signalling (that is, molecules involved in immune responses to foreign agents) are showing great promise in inhibiting the steps that would otherwise lead to premature birth.
Lead researcher: Professor Sarah Robertson
- Dr Alison Care
- Dr Loretta Chin
- Dr Kerrilyn Diener
- Dr Louise Hull
- Dr Tom Kieffer
- Dr Lachlan Moldenhauer
- Dr John Schjenken
- Dr David Sharkey
- Tara Crawford
- Camilla Dorian
- Dexter Chan - PhD Candidate
- Ella Green - PhD Candidate
- Kavita Panir - PhD Candidate
- Bihong Zhang - PhD Candidate
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