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Dr Kimberley Botting-Lawford
Dr Kimberley Botting-Lawford profile picture
  • Research Fellow
  • Maternal & Fetal Medicine
  • UCL EGA Institute for Womens Health
  • Faculty of Pop Health Sciences

I am a cardiovascular physiologist with an interest in how the fetal and maternal cardiovascular systems develop during pregnancy and respond to complications.

I am a post-doctoral research fellow with Prof. Anna David, testing a novel therapy to treat severe fetal growth restriction (FGR). FGR occurs in 8% of pregnancies in the UK and is associated with stillbirth. A common cause of FGR is a poor placenta, which is unable to supply the fetus with enough nutrients and oxygen required to grow. There is currently no treatment or cure to improve fetal growth or the fetus’s chance of survival. Our study aims to improve fetal growth by increasing the amount of nutrients and oxygen that are delivered to the placenta from the mother’s circulation. Specifically, we will increase the amount of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) produced in the maternal uterine artery, which will make the artery healthier and more relaxed. We will do this by using an adenoviral vector to deliver the VEGF gene to cells lining the maternal uterine artery. 

Through this research, I have the pleasure of working with a Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) group, which is made up of families who have experienced a pregnancy with FGR. Their involvement ensures that our treatment aligns with the needs of patients. 

I am currently completing a Postgraduate Diploma in Science Communication at the University of Cambridge, Institute of Continuing Education.

Research Summary

My Backstory

Born in Australia, I completed my Bachelor of Biomedical Science, Honours and PhD at the University of Adelaide. It was here, under the supervision of Prof. Janna Morrison and Prof. Caroline McMillen, that I developed an interest in how the environment in the womb interacts with our genes to programme a greater risk of disease in later life. During my PhD I investigated how exposure to low oxygen (hypoxia) and low nutrition can affect the fetal heart, and was the first to show a reduction in the number of heart muscle cells at birth (Botting K.J., 2014, Am Heart Assoc.), which can persist into adulthood (Botting K.J., 2018, Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol.).

After my PhD, I moved to Cambridge, UK, to start my first post-doc position with Prof. Dino Giussani. It was here that I developed my skills in in vivo cardiovascular physiology. I investigated how maternal hypoxia during pregnancy programmes high blood pressure in the offspring, and that giving antioxidant treatment in pregnancy, specifically MitoQ, can prevent it (Botting K.J., 2020, Sci Adv.).

Fetal hypoxia is one of the most common complications of pregnancy and as such the fetus has a defense response to survive it. Known as the fetal brain sparing response, fetuses will reduce their need for oxygen and redirect the oxygen and glucose they have to the organs that need it the most, which are the brain and adrenal gland. I investigated how this brain sparing response develops if fetal hypoxia last for days and weeks, and how the chronically hypoxic fetus may respond to superimposed challenges, such as compression of the umbilical cord.

I am also investigating the effect of antenatal corticosteroids on the developing cardiovascular system. Antenatal corticosteroids are given to women who are at risk of delivering pre-term to mimic the normal increase in fetal cortisol that happens at the end of a full-term pregnancy. Cortisol acts to mature fetal organs and prepares the fetus for life outside the womb, however, can interfere with the normal pattern of development of the cardiovascular system if not given at an appropriate time. I am also interested in the effects of antenatal corticosteroids in pregnancies that are complicated by chronic fetal hypoxia, such as in severe FGR.

Academic Background
  Dr The effect of prenatal hypoxia on cardiomyocyte development and postnatal health  
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