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Dr Owen Vaughan
86-96 Chenies Mews
Dr Owen Vaughan profile picture
  • Non-Clinical Lecturer
  • Maternal & Fetal Medicine
  • UCL EGA Institute for Womens Health
  • Faculty of Pop Health Sciences
BA (2008) and PhD (2012) University of Cambridge
Research Summary

Understanding what causes pregnancy complications and developing new ways to treat them.

Pregnancy complications that adversely affect the growth of the baby, like fetal growth restriction and maternal obesity, are associated with alterations in the function of the placenta. These complications increase perinatal morbidity and are linked to poor health in later life – a process called developmental programming. My research investigates the function and pathophysiological role of the placenta, using a combination of clinical studies, animal experiments and cell models. My goal is to develop effective treatments for obstetric diseases and their postnatal consequences.

Current projects:

1. Maternal obesity and microRNA-142

Obesity affects 1 in 7 pregnant women. Women with obesity are more likely than healthy weight women to suffer from pregnancy complications and their babies grow too rapidly and can have heart problems. My previous research has shown that hormones like apelin and adiponectin play a role in regulating excess placental nutrient transport, in maternal obesity. Currently, I am investigating the role of microRNA-142 as a signal affecting the fetal heart.

2. Fetal growth restriction, placental amino acid transport and apelin

Fetal growth restriction (FGR) severely compromises neonatal survival and lifelong health. There is currently no cure, and the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. I recently made the first demonstration that a placental amino acid transporter called SNAT2 (sodium-coupled neutral amino acid transporter 2) is mechanistically involved in FGR. I am now developing new treatments to improve placental function in FGR, including investigating apelin signaling as a therapeutic target.

3. Antenatal glucocorticoids and placental function

Glucocorticoids (steroids) are given to pregnant women at risk of preterm delivery, to substantially improve perinatal survival by maturing the fetus. However, they are also stress hormones and some antenatal glucocorticoid administration strategies are associated with reduced size at birth and metabolic dysfunction in the child. My work has shown that elevated maternal glucocorticoids reduce placental vascularity and nutrient transport in experimental animals, indicating that monitoring placental function may mitigate the unwanted side effects of antenatal glucocorticoids on fetal growth. We are currently exploring the signaling mechanisms underlying the beneficial, haemodynamic effects of glucocorticoids, on umbilical blood flow.

Teaching Summary
Module co-lead for Female Reproductive Anatomy and Physiology (MSc, Reproductive Science and Women's Health)
FEB-2021 Lecturer in Fetal Physiology and Prenatal Therapy Institute for Women's Health University College London, United Kingdom
JUN-2019 – JAN-2021 Instructor Obstetrics and Gynecology University of Colorado, United States
JUN-2016 – MAY-2019 Postdoctoral Fellow Obstetrics and Gynecology University of Colorado, United States
MAR-2015 – JUN-2016 Research Associate Institute for Women's Health University College London, United Kingdom
MAR-2012 – MAR-2015 Research Associate Physiology, Development and Neuroscience University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
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