Center for Developmental Health Research Areas

Brain and Behavioral Development

Lead scientists: Christopher Kroenke, Ph.D. and Joel Nigg, Ph.D.

Researchers in this group are investigating how the maternal/intrauterine environment affects brain development in the fetus and in subsequent offspring. Environmental insults include fetal exposure to alcohol and anesthetics during pregnancy. Research investigates the effects of maternal diet on fetal central nervous system development, such as protein restriction, manipulation of dietary fatty acid composition, and examination of the effects of a high-fat (western style) diet. The team uses state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain imaging to map the fetal central nervous system's development over time. They frequently observe inflammation in the developing central nervous system in response to the experimental conditions of unhealthy diet and other negative conditions. This can lead to later behavioral abnormalities or even a propensity for a stroke.

Endothelium and Developmental Origins

Lead scientist: Monica Hinds, Ph.D.

The endothelium is a single cell thick layer that lines the entire vascular system. It controls transportation of molecules between blood and tissue. Thus the endothelium is the first responder to anything wrong in the blood.  It is important to understand how a mother's diet or diabetes will affect the endothelium's ability to sense changes in disease states. The group speculates that the environment in the womb will hamper the cells' ability to respond to disease states later in the child's life and will lead to cardiovascular disease.

Extracellular Vesicle

Lead scientist: Terry Morgan, M.D., Ph.D.

In all people, the cells that line the blood vessels release tiny particles into the blood. The scientists within this group are on the cutting edge of developing technology that will isolate and characterize these particles. These particles have the potential to be used to understand pathological processes long before disease appears. In the case of pregnant women, OHSU scientists may be able to diagnose preeclampsia before elevated blood pressure occurs. They may also be able to predict certain kinds of heart disease before an individual has symptoms.

Heart and Blood Vessel Development

Lead Scientist: George Giraud, M.D., Ph.D.

This research team is determined to find the mechanisms in the fetus that lead to adult cardiovascular disease. They want to know why people who have very high and very low birth weights are likely to get heart disease. They study how a person's blood cholesterol interacts with the endothelium in the blood vessels in the heart to cause a heart attack.

Inflammation, Immunology and Second Hit

Lead scientist: Nancy Haigwood, Ph.D.

This group's major goal is to support other groups by providing expertise on inflammation. Inflammation is not a well understood process. It is important in fighting infectious organisms, and to eliminate them. Many disease conditions—including obesity, arthritis and heart disease-- are affected by an ongoing inflammation even when there is no infection. The group is also looking at how prenatal nutrition regulates the inflammatory state in newborns, and whether chronic inflammation during pregnancy predisposes the offspring to obesity and diabetes.

Metabolism and Development

Lead scientists: Jon Hennebold, Ph.D. and Jonathan Purnell, M.D.

During fetal development, maternal under-nutrition and over-nutrition are associated with an elevated risk of chronic diseases later in life. Thus, the overall objective of this group includes defining how abnormalities in maternal nutrition and metabolism affect critical developmental processes that lead to later disease. This includes studies of germ cell development and epigenetic effects that persist following fertilization, the uterine environment during implantation, as well as placental and organ formation and function and related development of chronic diseases after birth.

Placental Origin of Disease

Lead scientists: Leslie Myatt, Ph.D. and Antonio Frias, M.D.

This group's goal is to better understand how the growth of the placenta affects fetal development and long-term disease risk. The placenta functions as the fetal respiratory, renal, hepatic, endocrine and immune system. Placental research is currently limited by inadequate imaging modalities to understand its function in real time.

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