Project Details

Early Career

Status: Funded - Open

Circulating Fetal Cells: A new paradigm for the early detection and treatment of preeclampsia

Marnie Winter, PhD


BACKGROUND: Pregnancy complications associated with placental dysfunction such as preeclampsia are a devastating global issue affecting 20% of all pregnancies. In 2019, Preeclampsia will be one of the leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths (estimated 76,000 maternal and 500,000 fetal deaths) and many more women and children will suffer from long term cardiovascular consequences.

GAP: While clinical symptoms of preeclampsia generally manifest in the second or third trimester, the disorders molecular origins occur in the first trimester during placentation. However, to date there is no reliable approach to detect preeclampsia in early pregnancy and consequently guide optimal prenatal care.

HYPOTHESIS: The core hypothesis of this project is that circulating fetal cells are an ideal non-invasive source of placental RNA and that their transcriptomic analysis will provide a reliable “live” window into placental health. In addition, circulating fetal cell transcriptomics will also inform the development and implementation of targeted treatments and subsequent monitoring.

METHODS: Circulating fetal cells will be isolated from the blood of pregnant women with late onset PE (or

gestation matched controls, ~37 weeks gestation) with inertial microfluidics. Circulating fetal cells with undergo single cell RNA sequencing and their transcriptomics profiles will be compared with circulating fetal RNA and placental tissue to prioritize disease candidates and mechanistic pathways.

RESULTS: Pending

IMPACT: If transcriptomics of circulating fetal cells accurately reflects pathological processes occurring within the placenta, it could enable the detection of preeclampsia at its earliest molecular origins. This in turn could lead to a profound transformation of how we care for the condition, including earlier diagnosis and better treatment designed to improve both short- and long-term outcomes for mothers and babies

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