Reproductive Immunology Group
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 uterus.
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 elicit a sequence that acts to stimulate the generation of regulatory T cells (Treg cells). Treg cells are anti-inflammatory and protect the implanting embryo and developing placenta.
We have made substantial 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. Small molecules that block Toll-like receptor 4, and/or peptide antagonists of IL-1 signalling, suppress the pro-inflammatory pathway activated by infection or by sterile insults. These agents are showing great promise in inhibiting the steps that would otherwise lead to premature birth.
Professor Sarah Robertson
Professor Sarah Robertson was appointed Director of the Robinson Research Institute in 2013. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences. Her research focus is reproduction and development, particularly the role of the immune system in mammalian pregnancy. She has developed novel products for IVF treatment of recurrent miscarriage and partners with industry on new strategies to tackle miscarriage, preeclampsia and preterm delivery.
Research team Role Dr Alison Care Researcher Dr Loretta Chin Researcher Dr Kerrilyn Diener Researcher A/Prof Louise Hull Researcher Dr Tom Kieffer Researcher Dr Lachlan Moldenhauer Researcher Dr John Schjenken Researcher Dr David Sharkey Researcher Dr Bihong Zhang Researcher Camilla Dorian Research support Dexter Chan PhD Candidate Tara Crawford PhD Candidate Ella Green PhD Candidate Holly Groome PhD Candidate Kavita Panir PhD Candidate
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