The Reproductive Immunology Unit conducts studies that characterize the interaction between the immune system and reproductive organs with focus on two main areas of research:
Program Grant: Function of TLRs throughout gestation
The purpose of the program project grant is to evaluate the placental, decidual and maternal immune interactions from a new perspective, that a positive interaction between placental and maternal components exist together to support and protect pregnancy and does not represent the classic graft/rejection interaction. Trophoblast cells, decidual (stromal and endothelial) cells, as well as cells of the innate immune system, communicate with each other throughout a network of cytokines and chemokines. Such crosstalk occurs through the expression of innate immune sensors, known as Toll-like Receptors (TLRs) that are expressed at the maternal-fetal interface and serve as sensors for the recognition and response to the environment throughout implantation and gestation. Our studies focus on the expression, regulation and function of TLRs in each of the cellular components of the maternal-fetal interface, and to evaluate their role in pregnancy success providing a complete picture of molecular regulation and cellular interactions at the maternal-fetal interface. The ongoing studies in the Program Grant utilize different cell type cultures obtained from the same reproductive tissues. The collaboration of the three programs provides a unique opportunity to evaluate trophoblast cells, decidual cells, endothelial cells and immune cells from the same tissue sample.
The purpose of these studies are to understand the interaction between cancer cells and their surrounding microenvironment. The lab has identified a population of ovarian cancer stem cells, and our main objective is to characterize these cells in biological processes such as apoptosis, metastasis, and immune cell regulation. Understanding their basic biological role will help develop novel therapies that may reverse chemoresistance and markers for detection.
The unit has an Ovarian Cancer Tissue Bank that contains approximately 800 tissue samples of the primary and metastatic ovarian cancers as well as tissue samples from normal ovaries. An important component of the Tissue Bank is its panel of ovarian cancer cells (n=36) isolated from ascites and 10 immortalized normal Ovarian Surface Epithelial cells (OSE). In addition, as part of the NCI Ovarian Cancer Early Detection Program, the facility has in storage ascites and serum samples from patients with ovarian cancer and healthy age matched controls.
Additionally, Discovery to Cure: Advancing the Prevention, Early Detection & Treatment of Women's Reproductive Cancers is a translational research program that seeks to achieve accurate detection of ovarian and other reproductive cancers at their earliest stages. Studies in the lab are primarily designed to find advancements in early detection for ovarian cancer.