Image of newborn baby

Pregnancy and Environment Research Program

At the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development, we know that education begins in the womb. When compared to other local and global regions, Detroit’s environmental factors, including pollution, genetics, race and socioeconomic stressors, all disproportionately affect fetal developmental programming in the city’s population. These stressors not only create distinct developmental consequences that impact both mother’s and children’s health and well-being, but also perpetuate transgenerational disease conditions.

The C.S. Mott Center’s Pregnancy and Neonatology Research Program examines metabolic and environmental factors, both external and internal, that impact the fetal developmental programming of adult disease. We aim to halt this perpetuating cycle of transgenerational disease progression that initiates in utero through the development of therapies that target and prevent abnormal outcomes.

Research Program
Illustration for the Pregnancy and Environment program with a focus on four areas: Infection in Pregnancy, Prevention, Exposomes in Pregnancy and Development Programming & Preterm Birth

A Bold Approach

The C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development is dedicated to a collaborative, team-based approach to academic research that provides translational bench-to-bedside targeted treatments. The Pregnancy and Neonatology Research Program has several concurrent research tracks:

Preterm Birth Novel Predictive Factors

Detroit ranks as the worst city in the United States for preterm births with a rate of 14.5% of every 1,000 live births. Women who were born preterm themselves have a 46% increased rate of delivering their own babies prematurely. This is an example of transgenerational transmission of a disease condition that is likely impacted by genetic, environmental and epigenetic factors.

Infection in Pregnancy

Understanding the impact of both viral and bacterial infections on the maternal immune system is essential for the appropriate management of women’s health throughout pregnancy. Infections can be a major challenge, as they first affect the well-being of mothers and later lead to many developmental concerns for their newborn child.

Early Detection and Prevention through Non-Invasive Biomarkers

Identification of pregnancy complications at the earliest possible stage is essential for health of the mother and development of the baby. Biomarkers, from blood pressure and heart rate to histologic and genetic tests of blood and tissues, are significant tools for quick, non-invasive diagnosis. Those biomarkers released by the uterine-fetal compartment during pregnancy, called circulating biomarkers, are early warning signals that act as readouts of environmental, metabolic, psychological, physiological and socioeconomic stressors. A simple blood test can be all it takes to ensure a prompt diagnosis and effective treatment for at-risk pregnancies.

Mechanisms Driving Developmental Programming

Targeting research toward the exposomes in pregnancy and in early childhood consisting of entirety of environmental and lifestyle factors that give rise to and respond to circulating biomarkers can give many answers to previously unsolvable questions. From which populations of women, to what phase in their pregnancy, these advances will promote new strides in the management and treatment of abnormal developmental programming.

From Research to Clinical Application

There is an urgent need for new treatments to prevent the self-perpetuating cycle of transgenerational disease transmission. Utilizing our complementary skill sets in immunology, molecular biology, reproductive physiology, environmental disruptors, exposome physiology and toxicology, transgenic animal modeling and human sample sets, we can translate our research to clinical applications that halt the cycle of transgenerational disease transmission.

Commitment to Education and Communities

The Wayne State University School of Medicine and the C.S. Mott Center are dedicated to educating the next generation of physician-scientists to achieve health and wellness for our communities. Through pioneering research and clinical excellence, the Pregnancy and Neonatology Research Program trains high school students, undergraduates, residents, and post-doctoral fellows in developmental programming and transgenerational disease transmission. In addition, our researchers actively participate in community programs that support patient education and awareness. From genetic, epigenetic, nutrient, metabolic, and environmental threats, to early detection of at-risk pregnancies, we can identify and care for the most vulnerable and ultimately, improve patient outcomes for the future.