Dr. Mary Wallingford has received a three-year grant from the American Heart Association. In this study, “Evaluation of the Biomedical Significance and Prognostic Value of Calcification in the Placenta,” she proposed the innovative idea that placental vascular calcification profiles can be used as novel early markers of placental dysfunction. At delivery the placenta often contains calcified tissue, and several groups have shown that placental cells harbor osteochondrogenic potential; but the pathological significance of placental calcification, histoanatomical specificity, and onset remain poorly understood. Dr. Wallingford’s preliminary research has characterized the Slc20a2 null mouse as the first animal model of placental calcification, providing a genetic link and preclinical model. She has also identified distinct types of cell type specific calcium-phosphate deposits in human placenta and developed a local binary pair algorithm that generates patient-specific calcification profiles when applied to human placenta ultrasound images.
In the proposed study, her team will test the overall hypothesis that cell type specific calcification profiles alter placental function and predict adverse clinical outcomes. They will test this idea with specific aims that utilize a mouse model of placental vascular calcification, in vivo fluorescent imaging, ultrasound image analytics, and in vitro models. The primary research outcomes of this study will be 1) determination of whether placental calcification is relevant to placental function, 2) implementation of new image analysis tools that can be readily translated to the clinic, and 3) temporal delineation of osteochondrogenic mechanisms by which Slc20a2 may regulate placental calcium-phosphate mineral deposition. The proposed research will contribute directly to Dr. Wallingford’s long-term goal of advancing obstetric cardiovascular medicine by generating both fundamental basic science knowledge and evaluating of new clinical diagnostic tools.
The overarching research objective of Dr. Wallingford’s lab is to advance fundamental knowledge of placenta vascular development and pathophysiology and to use this knowledge to improve obstetric cardiovascular medicine by supporting the development of greatly needed diagnostic tools and treatment options for placental disorders that impact maternal and fetal cardiovascular health. Preeclampsia and placental dysfunction are generally not diagnosed until late in the disease process, often necessitating hospitalization and preterm delivery. This relates in part to the lack of early diagnostic measures.