Neuroprotective Mechanisms in Pregnancy: Role of Placental Products in Protecting Against Brain Damage in the Fetus and Newborn
Supervisor: Dr Jonathan Hirst
Complications during pregnancy or at birth may lead to episodes of asphyxia and can result in neurological impairment in the newborn. The consequent brain injury may lead to life-long handicaps such as cerebral palsy. The placenta secretes a number of products that aid in protecting the newborn brain against asphyxia-induced damage. After birth the adrenal glands take over from the placenta in providing protection against stressful events and brain cell death. Preterm neonates often suffer from adrenal insufficiency. In addition, many preterm neonates are exposed to therapies that suppress adrenal function and therefore may be particularly vulnerable to brain damage. This project will examine the expression reductase enzymes that produce protective steroids, in the placenta from normal and premature deliveries. The studies will also examine adrenal steroids levels in umbilical cord blood samples. This data will indicate if adrenal function is inadequate in these babies and if adrenal production is suppressed by certain maternal therapies. The overall goal of these studies is to delineate strategies for maximising neuroprotection in 'at risk' neonates. The long-term aim is to identify the best therapeutic approaches for that maintaining steroid-mediated protection following complications during pregnancy and at birth.