Creating a Rationale for Personalised Spontaneous Preterm Birth Risk Management – An In Vitro Model of Bacteria-Host Innate Immune Interactions in the Reproductive Tract.
The cervicovaginal environment (microbiome, innate immune system, and metabolome) is an important contributor to a healthy pregnancy. Risk of premature birth is associated with changes in resident microbial community, altered immune responses and inflammation. We hypothesise that the resultant inflammation affects vaginal epithelia and cervix integrity and increases risk of ascending infection. In clinical studies, we have identified a panel of metabolites and bacteria that can predict spontaneous preterm birth in UK women; we are validating this in a separate sub-Saharan Africa cohort. These studies give insight into the pregnant cervicovaginal environment as well as providing biological samples for mechanistic studies.
This laboratory-based PhD will investigate the impact of an altered cervicovaginal environment on epithelial cell function and immune response in the presence and absence of bacteria/bacterial products of metabolism. The overarching goal is to inform the future use of targeted probiotics and/or antibiotic strategies to prevent preterm birth.
Specific aims are to:
1. Determine the impact of metabolites and bacterial products on vaginal epithelial cell integrity, permeability and inflammation using a 3D cell model cultured in hypoxic cell culture chambers.
2. Develop the cell model to enable co-culture with specific immune cells and/or bacterial isolates.
3. Explore the synergistic interactions between key bacteria isolated from pregnant women, their impact on vaginal epithelial cell culture (aim 1), and sensitivity to antibiotics.
Rebecca has a BSc in Biomedical Science from the University of Birmingham and an MSc with Distinction in Women and Children’s Health from King’s College London, where she won the ‘Outstanding Research Project’ prize for her laboratory research dissertation on the medial amygdala and puberty delay due to stress. She chose the DTP for its bespoke training courses and wider development opportunities, as well as opportunities for public engagement, which match well with the women’s health projects on offer.
UK Preterm Birth Conference 2024 poster presentation
SRI Conference 2024 poster presentation