The program of reproductive – and vascular immunology seeks to understand how the immune system achieves maternal – fetal tolerance in human pregnancy; in other words, why does the mother’s immune system not reject the fetus as it would reject a transplant? The understanding of maternal – fetal tolerance is crucial to address situations in which it does not work normally as we see in pregnancy disorder preeclampsia where the mother experiences dangerously high blood pressure. A particular emphasis in our quest to understand the immunological underpinnings of preeclampsia is on leveraging that understanding to develop treatments.
Another area of interest are the mechanisms by which the immune system impacts the health of the blood vessels in different disease settings and in ageing. A particular focus is hereby on women who had preeclampsia during one of their pregnancies. We now understand that those women are at increased risk for heart attack and stroke for years after the pregnancy. The disease pattern of these women is different from the “classical” pattern of clogged blood vessels observed in other populations. Instead, in women who had preeclampsia we find an inability of the blood vessels do dilate and stiffness of the vessels being more prominent drivers of disease in this group. In that patient group, we are investigating how inflammation during and after the preeclamptic pregnancy impacts the vascular health with particular interest in potential treatment options. For this project, Dr. Loewendorf and Dr. King are working in close collaboration undertaking a comprehensive assessment of the state of the vasculature (MRI) and the immune system (peripheral blood) in the same volunteers.