Nihar Nayak, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Nihar Nayak, D.V.M., Ph.D.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health awarded the Wayne State University School of Medicine a new, five-year $1,612,315 grant (R01HD088549-01A1) that could have far-reaching effects on maternal and fetal health, including helping prevent acute and long-term health risks associated with pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia and preterm labor.

Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Nihar Nayak, D.V.M., Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator, last month launched the project, which examines the molecular control of the development of placental trophoblasts, a process essential to normal pregnancy, and how aberrations in normal trophoblast development can lead to a spectrum of pregnancy disorders, from placental abruption in which the placenta detaches from the womb, to preeclampsia, both common and life-threatening disorders.

The work will define how the angiogenesis regulator vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, regulates trophoblast differentiation and approaches for altering VEGF function at different stages of pregnancy to safely prevent or alleviate pregnancy complications.

“Every year, more than 300,000 women die from pregnancy complications, and more 6.5 million more suffer complications that result in life-long disability, for which $41 billion is spent on health care costs,” Dr. Nayak said. “However, little is known about the development and differentiation of the cells – extravillous trophoblasts, or EVTs – at the heart of most human pregnancy complications. Our overarching goal is to develop mechanism-based strategies to prevent, diagnose and treat pregnancy complications associated with faulty trophoblast development.”

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