USF Health awarded $4M by NIH to assess effects of placental microvasculature and smoking on fetal growth

Bridging laboratory and clinical sciences, the study aims to improve the health outcomes  of pregnancies complicated by poor fetal growth

Tampa, FL (Sept. 28, 2015) – The USF Health Morsani College of Medicine has received a $4-million National Institutes of Health grant that will employ new imaging technologies and test biomarkers in the blood to determine whether abnormalities in the smallest blood vessels of the placenta and negative environmental influences, particularly smoking, cause fetal growth restriction (FGR).

The ultimate goal of the four-year study is to design a reliable way to predict poor growth of the fetus earlier in pregnancy so that physicians can intervene sooner to help prevent stillbirth, Cesarean delivery, decreased oxygen levels and other adverse outcomes.

The USF research award (1U01HD087213-01) was announced today as one of 19 projects funded by the Human Placenta Project — an initiative launched by the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development to better understand the role of the placenta in health and disease.

Anthony Odibo, MD and Dr. Umit Kayilsi have been awarded a 4 million dollar NIH grant to study the effects of smoking on fetal developement.

Anthony Odibo, MD (left) and Umit Kayisli, PhD, of the USF Health Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, are co-principal investigators of a $4-million Human Placenta Project — one of 19 new projects awarded in the U.S. and Canada by the NIH.

“I am so proud of our team,” said Charles J. Lockwood, MD,  dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and senior vice president for USF Health. “This is an important NIH initiative which addresses the common source of most major adverse pregnancy events – abnormal placentation.”

“In the past, it has been challenging to identify which women may benefit (from early therapeutic intervention), because they are at high risk for fetal growth restriction,” said co-principal investigator Anthony Odibo, MD, professor in the USF Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  “But powerful new imaging technology gives us the opportunity to really visualize all the blood vessels in the placenta, study the underlying problem of growth restriction, and create a highly predictive model for identifying small babies at risk of FGR.”

The USF grant, bridging laboratory and clinical sciences, will be led by Dr. Odibo and co-principal investigator Umit Kayisli, PhD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology.  Dr. Odibo, specializing in maternal-fetal medicine, is an expert in fetal therapy and directs the USF Fetal Care Center at Tampa General Hospital.  Dr. Kayisli specializes in molecular and cellular biology in reproduction and its clinical implications.

They will work on the NIH project with USF Ob/Gyn co-investigators Charles J. Lockwood, MD, Frederick Schatz, PhD, and Ozlem Guzeloglu-Kayisli, PhD, and with Rajendra Kedar, MD, from the USF Department of Radiology.  USF colleagues at Necker Hospital in Paris and at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Rochester, MI, will also collaborate.

Fetal growth restriction (FGR), affecting up to 10 percent of all pregnancies, is commonly defined as fetal weight below the 10th percentile for gestational age as determined by ultrasound. The condition remains a leading contributor worldwide to the death and illness of babies before and after birth.

Placental function – the ability of the critical organ to shuttle blood, oxygen and nutrients from mother to fetus through an intricate network of blood vessels – is inadequate in pregnancies complicated by FGR.  But predicting FGR has been difficult, because until recently imaging technologies have not been sensitive nor specific enough to clearly detect the smallest blood vessels in the placenta and monitor the flow of blood through this branching microvasculature.

Anthony Odibo, MD and Dr. Umit Kayilsi have been awarded a 4 million dollar NIH grant to study the effects of smoking on fetal developement.

Dr. Odibo points to an ultrasound image of the placenta, a critical organ that shuttles blood, oxygen and nutrients from mother to fetus through an intricate network of blood vessels.

For the USF study, researchers will use two of the latest technologies – superb microvascular imaging, or SMI ultrasound, and blood oxygen level-dependent magnetic resonance imaging, or BOLD MRI.

The investigators will compare biopsies of placenta from normal and FGR-complicated pregnancies in the laboratory and correlate them with the imaging assessments of the placental microvasculature.  They will also study how smoking affects the microvasculature and the potential link with FGR.

“The results obtained from SMI ultrasound and BOLD MRI combined with changes in expression levels of several biomarkers and epigenetic modifications in response to smoking will be instrumental in developing a predictive model for pregnancies at high risk for fetal growth restriction and improving the sensitivity and specificity of a potential early diagnosis and treatment of FGR,” Dr. Kayisli said.

For a list of all new grants awarded as part of the NIH Human Placenta Project, go to http://www.nichd.nih.gov/news/releases/Pages/092815-NIH-awards-HPP.aspx.

-USF Health-

USF Health’s mission is to envision and implement the future of health. It is the partnership of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences, and the USF Physician’s Group. The University of South Florida is a Top 50 research university in total research expenditures among both public and private institutions nationwide, according to the National Science Foundation.  For more information, visit www.health.usf.edu

Media contact:
Anne DeLotto Baier, USF Health Communications
(813) 974-3303 or abaier@health.usf.edu

Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications and Marketing