New student exchange

Program studies maternal health using pregnant mice

Kristiina Aasa
Image by: Jeff Peters
Kristiina Aasa

PhD students at Queen’s and the University of Campinas in Brazil are now able to participate in an exchange program that promotes global maternal health knowledge.

The federally-funded program is supported by International Trade Canada, a department which supports Canadians abroad. The department will provide each Canadian student participant with $10,000 for a six-month stay in Brazil beginning in Jan. 2012. Five to 10 students from either country will participate in the exchange over two years. Queen’s PhD candidates abroad will perform pregnancy-oriented research on mice, which have placentas similar to the human structure.

Dr. Anne Croy, professor in the Queen’s department of biomedical and molecular sciences, collaborated with Dr. Aureo Yamada, the program’s lead correspondent in Brazil.

Many pharmaceutical companies cannot administer treatments to pregnant women because of risk factors, Croy said, adding that this means treatments must be tested on animals first.

“They don’t administer them to pregnant women because of the liability issues,” she Croy said. “Human pregnancy you can follow by ultrasound, but you can’t do the intervention to test anything; it all has to be worked out in animal models.”

The treatments will be tested by measuring the blood pressure, heart rates and velocity of blood flow into the placenta of the mice.

Rebecca Scott, PhD ’12, will be the first sociologist involved in the program. She said her expertise rests in understanding the relationship between science and society.

Scott will be conducting surveys and questionnaires with Brazilian women to find out what they think about the possibility of their placentas being used for scientific research after the birth of their child.

“Some hospitals require written informed consent from women and some don’t require any consent at all,” Scott said. “There’s a huge diversity of practices around collecting the placenta, but not a lot is known about what women really think about this practice.”

Scott said this program is a promotional type of partnership, in that it hopes to raise awareness of the barriers that scientists face in Brazil.

Barriers include finding publicity, materials and financial support for scientific research, she said.

“It’s very important to be able to see how science is conducted in a country that’s quite a bit different than mine,” Scott said. “Brazil has a lot of Catholic religious influence and so that has actually a pretty significant impact on the conduct of pregnancy research in that country.”

Scott said maternal health and pregnancy complications aren’t typically seen as news worthy.

“Pregnancy research is something that is underreported on in media, sort of undervalued by funding bodies and not really seen as a major health topic in public health discourse.”


excahnge, International, program, students

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