Conversations in the Womb

Environmental Exposures and Mechanism of Maternal-Fetal Communication

In 2014, Kjersti M. Aagaard, MD, PhD published the first in a series of landmark studies challenging the prevailing wisdom that babies are born sterile — that their microbiota are established only outside the womb. In The Placenta Harbors a Unique Microbiome (2014) in Science Translational Medicine, she was the first to identify a unique placental microbiome and to suggest that this is not only part of a healthy pregnancy but also that it might help establish the fetus’s own nonpathogenic commensal microbiota in utero.

In recognition of her groundbreaking research in the area of perinatal disease and the microbiome, Kjersti M. Aagaard has been selected to present this year’s Joseph Scaletti Catalyst Lecture, as part of a series dedicated to highlighting “powerful ideas from the iconoclasts of biomedical research, health education & delivery”.

A true physician-scientist, Dr. Aagaard leads a basic science and clinical research lab at Baylor College of Medicine and cares for patients at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women and at Ben Taub Hospital. Both her clinical practice and research interests center on emerging infectious diseases, preterm birth, diabetes, hypertensive disorders, maternal smoking, environmental exposures, and the detection and diagnosis of congenital and genetic anomalies.

Aagaard’s translational research focuses on the role of the microbiome in pregnancy and early development and on the impact that maternal diabetes, high fat diet, smoking, and other environmental chemical exposures has on fetal development and disease later in life. In a recent paper, Maternal and early life exposures and their potential to influence development of the microbiome (2022) in Genome Medicine, she writes:

…compelling evidence arising from a diverse array of studies across mammalian lineages suggest that modifications to our metagenome and/or microbiome occur following certain environmental exposures during pregnancy and lactation, which in turn render risk of childhood and adult diseases. In this review, we will consider the evidence suggesting that development of the offspring microbiome may be vulnerable to maternal exposures, including an analysis of the data regarding the presence or absence of a low-biomass intrauterine microbiome.

If you’re a student with a strong interest in understanding and exploring the mechanisms of perinatal disease and the microbiome, the Aagaard lab is currently recruiting graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who have a background in bioinformatics, *-omics research, computational biology, statistics, or perinatal health.

When not in the lab, teaching graduate and medical students, caring for patients, and raising her children, Aagaard can be found running marathons for fun.

Please join us at the Domenici Center Auditorium or via Zoom for the 2023 Joseph Scaletti Memorial Catalyst Lecture to hear about Dr Aagaard’s latest research results. A sampling of recent papers from the Aagaard lab includes:

Each year, the Joseph V. Scaletti Catalyst Lecture series features scientific breakthroughs by a biomedical researcher at the forefront of biomedical research and education. Everyone is welcome to attend!

Friday, April 7, 2023 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Domenici Center Auditorium
University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center
The Joseph V. Scaletti Catalyst Lecture: A Public Forum for Envisioning the Future of Biomedical Research and Innovative Models for Healthcare Education and Delivery

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