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Experts Gather in Rochester to Discuss First Crucial Steps in Pregnancy

Friday, October 06, 2000

Scientists from three dozen nations are gathering in Rochester this week to discuss new findings aimed at understanding the early days of pregnancy, ultimately to help women have successful pregnancies and bear healthy children.More than 250 scientists are attending the 14th Rochester Trophoblast Conference, organized by University of Rochester Medical Center scientists and others. Physicians and scientists are gathering at the Rochester Marriott to discuss and debate recent findings about the "trophoblast," tissue in the mother that forms the placenta, the organ that provides nutrients to the embryo and is central to the birth of healthy children. This is the fourteenth time the conference has been held since 1961, when the first conference was organized by University of Rochester Medical Center faculty members Curtis Lund and Henry Thiede."The University of Rochester has a long tradition in excellence in reproductive biology, even dating back to the discovery of the hormone progesterone in the 1930s," says Richard K. Miller, Ph.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology. "We're well known for forming this conference. Today we're a world leader in such areas as infertility diagnosis and treatment, and in caring for high-risk pregnancies, as well as in our knowledge of the basic biology that allows women to have healthy babies."The trophoblast conference is one of the most prestigious gatherings in the world of scientists who specialize in studies of the placenta. Trophoblast cells first make their mark on an embryo within hours of fertilization, when the cells form around the embryo like bodyguards around a presidential candidate, escorting the embryo to its resting place in the uterus. During this journey through the fallopian tube the cells are sending out signals telling the woman's body to prepare for its arrival. Finally the embryo plunks down and implants in the uterine wall, an event "not unlike a spacecraft landing on the moon," says Miller. The trophoblast cells form the welcome committee, fanning out and laying the foundation for the placenta, which maintains a steady supply of oxygen to the embryo."The placenta is the critical interface between mother and child. It's involved in implantation of the embryo, maintenance of the pregnancy, and the quality of inter-uterine life," Miller says. "It's central for creating and delivering a healthy baby, and providing for its growth and maintenance."The University of Rochester is holding the Rochester Trophoblast Conference in conjunction with the Society for the Investigation of Early Pregnancy and the International Federation of Placenta Associations. Scientists will discuss a variety of topics having to do with pregnancy, premature delivery, the biology of the placenta, and related issues. Among the topics:

  • The role of vitamins C and E in preventing premature delivery or dangerous conditions such as preeclampsia.
  • The biology behind the dozens of causes that can cause women to have difficulty becoming pregnant. Even a mother's immune system can cause problems for an embryo looking to implant in the womb.
  • Biological factors that protect the majority of children born to mothers who are HIV-positive. Fewer than half of babies born to infected mothers are infected themselves, and doctors are trying to identify why. Some believe that the same chemical that serves as a marker for pregnancy tests may actually help babies ward off HIV. Physicians hope to learn from the natural defense mechanisms that babies have, and perhaps use those to treat adults with HIV.
  • Nutritional and other factors that may influence whether a woman has twins. Similarities between the way the embryo spurs the formation of new blood vessels to survive, and the way a cancerous tumor does so. Doctors trying to maintain a pregnancy in the face of inadequate blood supply may be able to foster such pregnancies by learning how tumors survive under such conditions. And understanding how tumors sprout new blood vessels helps physicians understand how the placenta does so.
  • Ways in which the quality of life during nine months in the uterus may influence a person throughout his or her lifetime.
  • The causes of high-risk pregnancy due to the premature rupture of membranes that protect the baby from infection.
  • The timing of when certain genes "turn on," and what the timing means for development. If some genes turn on just one day late during pregnancy, for instance, the mother will lose the pregnancy.

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