Featured Scientist


Dr. Stephen J. Renaud

Why is placenta development important?

Even in developed countries like Canada, the development of the placenta – the organ that connects a mother to her child – can cause life-threatening pregnancy complications.

Dr. Stephen J. Renaud studies how placental development can cause common pregnancy complications like preeclampsia. Preeclampsia, identified as a multifactorial disease, has been linked to race, obesity, and age, as well as a host of other variables.

Alternate pregnancy complications include intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) and spontaneous abortion. In each case the placenta malfunctions in some way, putting the life of the baby or mother at risk.

How is placenta development studied?

One way to study placental development is by analyzing “trophoblast” cells, linked to both IUGR and preeclampsia. Trophoblast cells act like a filter, facilitating the transfer of food and oxygen from the mother to the baby. Preeclampsia often occurs when those trophoblasts are compromised. 

Renaud started his research with trophoblast cells. He determined the mother’s immune cells could be the cause, negatively affecting trophoblast cells and causing the placenta to develop incorrectly.

“That subject was the focus of my graduate work,” Renaud said. “My postdoctoral work more directly focused on how the placenta develops under normal circumstances.”

Renaud now studies trophoblast cell development and how they interact with their environment, including the mother’s immune cells, to determine the root of placenta-related complications.

Where is the research now?

Renaud works primarily on two complications: preeclampsia, which targets the mother, and IUGR, which limits the growth and development of the child. His goal is to anticipate and manage symptoms of these complications.

Currently, there is no reliable way to determine which pregnancies are “high risk.”

Many mothers, including Renaud’s wife, have overcome serious complications to have healthy, successful pregnancies. With more research, doctors could fully prevent the serious, life-threatening side effects of those complications.

Read about the Featured Trainee