Preterm birth affects approximately 12 percent of all deliveries. Prematurity is the leading cause of neo-natal mortality in Canada and is a major risk factor for impaired growth and development. There is a pressing need for tests to predict the risk of premature delivery accurately enough to provide the best treatment to prevent pre-term delivery and avoid unnecessary interventions.
It is thought that preterm labour can result from infection and inflammation of the placenta. Fetal and/or maternal inflammatory proteins in threatened preterm labour may form a diagnostic signature that can be used to predict whether preterm delivery is imminent or not. The Overall lab has developed several techniques to identify diagnostic inflammatory signatures in tissues. Using these methods, Dr. Eckhard aims to establish a functional, system-wide understanding of infection-induced inflammation in preterm labour using human placentas as a model of infection and inflammation.
Dr. Eckhard will elucidate placental molecular pathways that are activated in response to escalating infection resulting from the rupture of placental membranes. Collection of placentas from various documented times following membrane rupture to delivery will capture a range of inflammatory responses to infection — these “timed infection” placentas will be compared to non-inflamed placentas from full-term caesarean section deliveries and to placentas from defined pre-term deliveries to establish biomarkers and determine how infection-induced inflammation leads to pre-term labour.