Our mission is to understand the causes and progression of pre-eclampsia or high blood pressure in pregnancy
and examine the links between high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in women, especially around the time of pregnancy.
The Vascular Immunology Group investigates the causes of pre-eclampsia through studying placentas and placental cells in the laboratory. We have been able to identify factors coming from
the placenta that lead to damage in the mothers’ blood vessels and how this interaction can affect high cholesterol and other substances known to increase the risk of blood vessel and heart disease.
Professor Annemarie Hennessy, who leads the Vascular Immunology Group, is also the Managing Director of PEARLS, a non-profit organisation established under the auspices of the Heart Research Institute, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Campbelltown Hospital to raise funds to support ongoing research into the cause of preeclampsia in pregnancy.
What impact will this research have?
The Vascular Immunology group has made several major discoveries about the relationship between high blood pressure in pregnancy and risks of heart disease and blood pressure in later life. This will influence the type of advice that is given to women after their pregnancy.
Current projects and goals
Our projects have a principal interest in understanding the causes and progression of pre-eclampsia or high blood pressure in pregnancy.
Immune system study
Dr Shikha Aggarwal has joined the team to investigate a potential new blood test for pre-eclampsia. She is looking at whether a certain type of antibody, which occurs during pregnancy, is a cause or an effect of pre-eclampsia. Her testing has the potential to provide a clue to the causes of early disease and could be added to our current testing for pre-eclampsia in women at greater risk. This study uses state-of-the-art heart and blood-vessel cell technology to look at toxins in pregnancy. Dr Aggarwal is a PhD student from the University of Western Sydney and practicing Nephrologist (Kidney Specialist) who is furthering her training at the HRI.
Pre-eclampsia anaesthetic study
Dr Suzanne Pears is looking at how to control blood pressure in mothers with pre-eclampsia by using different types of anaesthesia. Dr Pears is a PHD student from the University of a Sydney working at both the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital at the Heart Research Institute.
Toxic Placenta Study
Neroli Sunderland’s PhD project and the work of Gabrielle Bobek at the University of Western Sydney is investigating the toxic effect of poor blood supply on the placenta.
Dr Bei Xu continues to do fantastic work looking at the effect of calcium, blood pressure tablets, and even cholesterol on how placentas grow into the expecting mother’s blood vessels.
Cholesterol and the placenta
Dr Katrina Chau is using her PhD project to investigate ways in which the placenta is controlled by the good cholesterol in the blood stream.